Lab 4: Hurricanes

Joe Martin, Oberlin CollegeAmanda Schmidt, Oberlin College


Students use a Python script to download position, size and foretasted position and size of hurricanes into a spreadsheet from NOAA hurricane forecasts. They then display the actual and foretasted hurricane positions in ArcMap. Finally students look at which counties in the United States have had the highest amount of hurricane activity. Students display their work in a multi-part map, or a series of maps.

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This exercise is used in an introductory GIS course for geology and environmental studies students.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Basic Familiarity with ArcMap and ArcCatalog; working with shapefiles; basic geoprocessing, the basic concept of computer scripting

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the second in a series of stand-alone GIS exercises that introduce students to using Python Scripting for ArcGIS.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Displaying data from spreadsheets; converitng points into lines and polygons; combining datasets; relating feature data by dissolving, intersecting, and joining; introduction tot he following scripting concepts: for loops; strings, text parsing, comments

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Investigating the relationships between different vector datasets, displaying hazard information on a map

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

NOAA archives all of their hurricane advisories on their website. These advisories contain information about the size and position of the storm throughout its life, as well as forecasted sizes and positions in 12 hour intervals. This allows students to look at the development of a specific hurricane and compare it against the predictions of atmospheric scientists. NOAA also provides hurricane paths for the United States from the last 160 years, which allows students to look for geographic trends in the paths of hurricanes.

Lab 4a: In this lab exercise, students set inputs to a Python script that automatically downloads size and position as well as forecasted position and size of hurricanes into a spreadsheet from NOAA advisories into a spreadsheet.

Lab 4b: In this lab exercise, students display the hurricane data from the spreadshet generated in Lab 4a. They then buffer the points by the size of the hurricane and create lines connecting the hurricane observations to create hurricane paths. Finally, students create a map showing the accuracy of the forecasts

Lab 4g: In this homework exercise, students download historical hurricane data as well as country and county shapefiles. They then project all the files into a common coordinate system.

Lab 4g: In this lab exercise, students dissolve, intersect, and join historical hurricane paths to county data, and create a hazard map for hurricanes in the United States
Lab 4a: Data Download For Hurricane Lab (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB Jun6 17)
Lab 4b: Hurricanes (Acrobat (PDF) 506kB Jun6 17)
Lab 4g: Data Download Part 2 (Acrobat (PDF) 270kB Jun6 17)
Lab 4h: Hurricane Paths (Acrobat (PDF) 451kB Jun6 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The NOAA hurricane advisory archives have changed throughout time. While the parsing script should be able to handle both the old and new formats of the advisory index page, before assigning hurricanes to students, you should either test the hurricanes to make sure the script can handle the index parser, or have a backup hurricane in mind.


Students are assessed on the clarity and professionalism of their map, if it effectively conveys the difference between the forecasted and actual paths, and areas of high hurricane hazard. Students are also assessed by a workflow and letter summarizing what they did and learned in the lab.

References and Resources