When Nature Strikes: How Well Can Hurricane Tracks and Intensities Be Forecast?

Students first learn important concepts about hurricanes and view the accompanying "When Nature Strikes" video. Students will then study a set of computer model images for "Hurricane Sandy" (October 2012) to understand more about the difficulties of predicting the paths and intensities of a hurricane. Finally, they may develop a presentation to share what they have learned with younger students and/or community groups. Materials:
Created by NESTA/Windows to the Universe member Dr. Michael J Passow using computer storm model data provided by permission of Dr. Clark Evans of University of Wisconsin-Madison. "When Nature Strikes" is produced by NBC Learn in partnership with the National Science Foundation.
Grade level:
7 - 9
3 - 5 class periods
Student Learning Outcomes:
Students will learn about basic factors creating hurricanes.
Students will learn about weather technologies used to observe and monitor hurricanes.
Students will understand strengths and weaknesses of computer models predicting storm tracks and intensities.
Students may create presentations about preparing for hurricanes to be shared with younger children and/or community members.
Lesson format:
Examining images from computer models

Standards Addressed:

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas:
ESS2.A Earth Materials and Systems
ESS2.C The Roles of Water in Earth Systems
ESS2.D Weather and Climate
ESS3.B Natural Hazards
ESS3.D Global Climate Change
ETS1.B Developing Possible Solutions
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:
Developing and Using Models
Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking
Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
Engaging in Argument from Evidence
NGSS Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science:
Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology
NGSS Connections to Nature of Science:
Science Models, Laws, Mechanisms, and Theories Explain Natural Phenomena
Scientific Knowledge Assumes an order and Consistency in Natural Systems


1. Start learning about hurricanes and the scientists who research them by having class watch the When Nature Strikes: Hurricanes video. Read the "Background Information about Hurricanes" and answer the questions included in this narrative.

2. Open the "Hurricane Sandy Activity" and the accompanying "Images of Hurricane Sandy paths and intensities." Use these images and your knowledge about tropical cyclones to answer the questions.

3. If time and interest permit, carry out the extension activity to share what you have learned about hurricane safety with younger children.


Assess the students' responses to the questions throughout the lesson. Use class discussion of this complex topic to gently correct any misconceptions. Develop an appropriate rubric for how students will present their results as they participate in the discussion.


Follow school guidelines for computer technology usage. There are no lab safety issues.


No clean up is required.


Extensions: How should you prepare for an approaching hurricane? The "When Nature Strikes" program seeks to inspire students and other viewers to learn more about natural hazards so you will be better aware in advance of how to prepare for such events and what to do should one occur. One of the best ways to enhance your knowledge is to teach it to others. Create a slideshow, video, or other presentation to educate younger students in your school system or a community group about hurricanes. You should include answers to these questions:
  • How likely is your State to be affected by a hurricane? Your Community?
  • Which States are most likely to experience hurricanes? How does yours compare?
  • Why do meteorologists give names to hurricane and other tropical storms?
  • What have been some of the strongest hurricanes ever observed?
  • What agency has official responsibility to issue warnings?
  • What is a hurricane advisory? Hurricane Watch? Hurricane Warning?
  • What should every school and home have to receive notices of approaching storms?
  • What should people in your community do to prepare for a hurricane?
  • What are some frequently asked questions about hurricanes and tropical storms?
Here are selected links that may help you to get started:
National Weather Service Hurricane Hazards
Tropical Cyclone Hazards
Hurricane and Tropical Cyclone Safety Tips
Tropical Storm Names
Frequently Asked Questions about Hurricanes


Read about hurricanes and other tropical storms in the narrative provided in the "Materials."



Last modified April 27, 2016 by Jennifer Bergman.

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA