Hurricanes 2: Tracking Hurricanes

What You Need

Hurricanes 2: Tracking Hurricanes


To examine the role of technology in identifying and tracking hurricanes.


This lesson is the second in a two-part series on the science of hurricanes and the kinds of technology being used to identify and track them.

In Hurricanes 1: The Science of Hurricanes, students examine different scientific aspects of hurricanes, all in an effort to begin to understand the nature of motion—particularly how changes in speed or direction of motion are caused by forces.

In Hurricanes 2: Tracking Hurricanes, students’ study of hurricanes is broadened by exploring how technology and science are used today to identify, measure, and track powerful tropical storms to better warn and secure people from their often-devastating impact.

In teaching about hurricanes at this elementary level, it is helpful to introduce broad concepts about motion and forces, such as the fact that everything in the universe moves and that nothing in the universe is at rest. Students may also be able to grasp that changes in motion—speeding up, slowing down, changing direction—are due to the effects of forces. (Science for All Americans, pp. 52–53.) While teaching, keep in mind that students should have a lot of experiences to shape their intuition about motion and forces long before encountering laws. In the context of hurricanes, it is important that students walk away from these lessons knowing simply that air pressure, water, and wind currents are all forces that influence the formation, motion, and direction of hurricanes.

It is important to note the many misconceptions that younger students have about forces and motion. For example, in the area of forces, research has shown that students hold various meanings for the term force. Typically, students think force is something that makes things happen or creates change. Their descriptions of force often include related words such as energy, momentum, pressure, power, and strength. Younger students associate the word force with living things. In addition, students tend to think of force as a property of an object (an object has force, or force is within an object) rather than as a relation between objects. Also, they tend to distinguish between active objects and objects that support or block or otherwise act passively. Students tend to call the active actions force but do not consider passive actions as forces.(Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 339.)

Research on students’ ideas about motion is also helpful. For example, students believe constant speed needs some cause to sustain it. Moreover, they believe that the amount of motion is proportional to the amount of force; that if a body is not moving, there is no force acting on it; and that if a body is moving, there is a force acting on it in the direction of the motion. Students also believe that objects resist acceleration from the state of rest because of friction—that is, they confound inertia with friction. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 339.)

At this level, it is also recommended that students begin to increase their repertoire of tools and techniques and improve their skills in measurement, calculation, and communication. To accomplish this goal, students may use instruments like microscopes, telescopes, cameras, sound recorders and, in this lesson series, online mapping and tracking instruments, in order to reinforce the importance of the dependence of science on technology. Students at this level should also be encouraged to begin to write about technology, particularly how technology helps people in various ways. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 45.)

Note: This lesson series is more appropriate for students at the upper end of the 3-5 grade band, partly because of the rather complex nature of the websites being used.


First, briefly review what students learned in Hurricanes 1: The Science of Hurricanes. This can be done by covering the key points in each of their Web readings or by eliciting information from the class on what they know about hurricanes and what causes their formation, movement, and change in direction.

Students should now be able identify and conceptualize the basic elements of a hurricane, and the fact that natural forces like air pressure, water, and wind currents cause hurricanes (and other natural phenomena in the universe) to change speed and direction of motion.

They should also understand that a hurricane: (a) moves in a counterclockwise, rotational motion; (b) has a center, or "eye," which is a low-pressure area that is made up of cool, calm weather; (c) slows down while traversing land areas; (d) can develop from a small storm and gradually turn into a hurricane (at 74 m.p.h.), if enough climatic elements and forces are present; and (e) is often very dangerous, damaging, and life-threatening to the populated areas it encounters.

Next, as an extension of their review and a way to springboard the class into the tracking of hurricanes, ask questions like the ones below. Encourage a variety of brainstorming responses.

  • Since hurricanes are so dangerous, how do people protect themselves from them?
  • What kinds of machines or technology do you think people use to study hurricanes?
  • Why is it important to study, measure, and track the movement of hurricanes?
  • Which do you think is better at studying, measuring, and tracking things like hurricanes—people or machines? Why?
  • Why is it helpful to know ahead of time where hurricanes are located?

    (Accept all answers and opinions. Encourage students to elaborate on their views.)

Note: These kinds of basic, fundamental questions will be revisited in the Assessment in an attempt to determine how student understanding has moved forward as a result of this lesson.


The goal here is to help students see how technology has helped humanity accurately identify and track hurricanes.

Ask students to access the Tracking Hurricanes student esheet. As noted in Step 1 of the esheet, have the class as a whole read Public Awareness on the WW2010 site. This resource explains how technology helps to track hurricanes to help protect people and societies.

Next, check student comprehension and explore their ideas about what they have read by discussing the questions found on the student esheet. (You may use the Tracking Hurricanes teacher sheet for possible responses to the questions.)

As shown in Step 2 of the esheet, direct students to the Tropical Cyclone Tracker. In order to help them understand and use this online tracking system, you may want to divide the class into pairs, read the instructions together, and explain how the hurricane category chart works, and that kt, or knots, represents miles or nautical miles.

Once students have a basic orientation, allow them to play with the tracking system and select among the seven Big Hurricanes to watch them evolve from small, slow tropical depressions, or storms, into fast, high-category hurricanes.

Then go on to discuss the questions found on the student esheet to gauge student understanding of what is happening.

Note: While explaining and working through this activity, it is recommended that simple, general references are made to the two central benchmarks of this lesson:

  • Technology enables scientists and others to observe things that are too small or too far away to be seen without them and to study the motion of objects that are moving very rapidly or are hardly moving at all.
  • Measuring instruments can be used to gather accurate information for making scientific comparisons of objects and events and for designing and constructing things that will work properly.

As outlined in Step 3 of the esheet, students should look at and read the short introduction on Hurricane! from AccuWeather.com. This insightful resource provides daily forecasts on the latest storm developments around the world, including detailed information, radar and satellite images, and maps on past and present storms.

Once students have a basic orientation and begin clicking on the different basins of the map for current tropical storm developments happening around the world, discuss their responses to this question: What is happening today in the West Pacific?

Following Step 4 of the esheet, direct students' attention to the Maps link on the upper, left-hand side menu. Once students orient themselves to the current temperature map of North America that appears, discuss the questions found on the student esheet.

In Step 5 of the esheet, students will click on the radar tab at the top of the page. This will take students to a current radar image of North America. Have them first enlarge the radar image, and then animate this map to full effect (the buttons for enlarging and animating the map are on the right side of the map). Discuss the guiding questions found on the student esheet as students observe what is happening.

In Step 6 of the esheet, have students click on the satellite tab at the top of the screen, which will present a current satellite image of North America. Students should also enlarge and animate this photo before discussing the benchmark-based questions found on their esheet.

You may also choose to have them get varied satellite maps used in the Additional Features section for fun and further exposure to the level of insights that satellite technology has afforded us.


Assess student understanding of the lesson according to their answers and participation in the class discussions, in addition to the comprehensive review questions included in the final section of the student esheet.


For current information, research, and Web resources on Hurricanes, see the Science Update entitled Hurricanes.

Hurricane! includes numerous other features that students may wish to explore, such as the hurricanes from Past Years, which visually document and break down each of the hurricanes that have occurred over the past several years.

Optional classroom activity:

For fun, you can have pairs of students focus on the Atlantic 2001 hurricanes by making zoomed-up copies of this map of the Atlantic, found on the AccuWeather.com site, and having them draw a copy of a hurricane from the year and region. They could then present and discuss it with the rest of the class.

WW2010 strives to integrate current and archived weather data with multimedia instructional resources using new technologies.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks State Standards

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