Lesson Plans

Hurricane Sandy to Scale

Teacher Resource(s)

Grade Band

  • 6-8

Lesson Duration

  • 50 minutes



NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts

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NASA Earth Observatory Image - Hurricane Sandy


Students will investigate the effects of hurricane Sandy and make a scale model of the storm over the continental United States to assess the area of impact of the storm.

Learning Objectives

In this lesson students will use mathematics to form a basic model of the area covered by a hurricane. They will evaluate the usefulness of the model for determining potential impacts on people and communities. They will use the model to look at the potential reach of a hurricane and use their knowledge of natural hazards to determine the limitations of the model as well.

NASA Phenomenon Connection

Hurricanes are large, swirling storms with winds of 119 kilometers per hour (74 mph) or higher. That's quicker than a cheetah can run which is the fastest animal on land.

Hurricanes are said to be the most violent storms on Earth. These storms are also  called by other names, such as typhoons or cyclones, depending on where they occur. The scientific term for these storms is “tropical cyclone.” Only tropical cyclones that form over the Atlantic Ocean or eastern Pacific Ocean are called "hurricanes”. Whatever they are called, tropical cyclones all form the same way. (see https://pmm.nasa.gov/education/articles/how-do-hurricanes-form)

Because tropical cyclones are like giant engines that use warm, moist air as fuel, they form only over warm ocean waters near the equator. The number of hurricanes occurring each year varies widely from ocean to ocean, depending on how much warm ocean water exists. The most active area is the northwestern Pacific Ocean, which contains a wide expanse of warm ocean water.  On average, twenty six tropical cyclones form in this region each year, of which seventeen reach hurricane (typhoon) status. In contrast, the Atlantic Ocean averages about ten storms annually, of which six reach hurricane status. Compared to the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic is a much smaller area, and therefore supports a smaller expanse of warm ocean water to fuel storms. The Pacific waters also tend to be warmer, and the layer of warm surface waters tends to be deeper than in the Atlantic. Overall, about 80 tropical cyclones occur annually across the globe, one-third of which achieve hurricane status.The frequency and intensity of hurricanes varies significantly from year to year, and scientists haven’t yet figured out all the reasons for the variability. (see https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Hurricanes/hurricanes_3.php)

Tropical cyclones usually weaken when they hit land, because they are no longer being "fed" by the energy from the warm ocean waters. (see https://pmm.nasa.gov/education/articles/how-do-hurricanes-form)

Essential Questions

  1. What are the attributes of a circle?
  2. How are diameter and radius related?
  3. How are the circumference and radius related?
  4. What are the effects of hurricanes on communities?
  5. What can you infer about the impact area of hurricanes?

Driving Question

When a hurricane is approaching the coast, is it important for people away from the center of the hurricane to prepare?

Materials Required

  • Print out of United States Map
  • Compass
  • Ruler (depending on type of compass)
  • Internet enabled device (can be used by groups or as a class if needed)
  • Student Sheets

Technology Requirements

  • Internet Required

Background Information

By the 8th grade, students are expected to develop and use a model to describe phenomena and evaluate the limitations of a model for a proposed object. They are also expected to use mathematical representations to describe and/or support scientific conclusions.

A practice of both science and engineering is to use and construct models as helpful tools for representing ideas and explanations. These tools include diagrams, drawings, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations.

In both science and engineering, mathematics and computation are fundamental tools for representing physical variables and their relationships. They are used for a range of tasks such as constructing simulations; statistically analyzing data; and recognizing, expressing, and applying quantitative relationships. NGSS 2013

This lesson is designed for students to practice construction of a circle by using it as a model for a hurricane. It should be used after students have learned the parts of a circle and their relationship to each other. In addition, they should have some background knowledge of how and where hurricanes form before this lesson. They will explore impacts of a hurricane during the lesson. NGSS 2013

Prerequisites Student Knowledge

It is assumed that students have been introduced to circles and the use of a compass to draw circles. Students should also have a working knowledge of the geography of the location of the fifty states in the United States of America or use a labeled map to guide them.

Student Misconception

Students may think that only the center of a tropical cyclone, or hurricane, is dangerous. Examining the extent of a storm will support the idea that there can be a large area of serious impact from these storms.


Before Class: Have device/s with internet access available.

  1. Set the stage for learning by telling students that they will make a simple model of a hurricane to determine how far reaching the effects of a storm can be. Explain that you will be using a real hurricane as an example, Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall on October 29, 2012.

  2. Ask students if they have ever seen hurricane forecasts. Would they be concerned if a hurricane were approaching the area where they live? If they lived on the coast near, but not directly where a hurricane were forecast to make landfall would they make preparations?

  3. If needed, briefly review how and where a hurricane forms.

  4. Have students explore the information about Hurricane Sandy.

  5. The diameter of Hurricane Sandy was approximately 1600 km. What was the radius? 

  6. What was the area? This is the area that was affected by strong winds of at least tropical-storm strength 

  7. Estimate the circumference of the hurricane. 

  8. Calculate the circumference if it were a perfect circle. Blank US Map

  9. Use the US map provided to draw a circle to scale centered in Kansas. Use the radius you calculated.

  1. Why is Kansas not likely to be affected by a hurricane?

  2. Redraw the circle with the center over New Jersey.

    NASA Earth Observatory Image - Hurricane Sandy
    NASA Earth Observatory Image - Hurricane Sandy
  3. Look at the image provided to compare the area covered. How many states would be affected?

  4. What states were actually affected?

  5. What does this mean for people who may not be directly where the eye of the hurricane hits, but are within the area of the storm?

  6. What effects would you expect people and communities to experience from the hurricane

  7. Use the Claim, Evidence Reasoning technique to answer the question: “When a hurricane is approaching the coast, is it important for people away from the center of the hurricane to prepare?”

Claim Evidence Reasoning Worksheet and Rubric


  • Have students research another hurricane and its effects.
  • Have students develop an explanation of NASA's role in Hurricane Research
  • Have students research the sizes of other hurricanes and draw them on the map for comparison.


STEM Career Connections

  • General Scientist - A scientist is a person that works in a specific field to acquire or uncover knowledge related to the natural world.
  • Meteorologist – as defined by the American Meteorological Society - a person with “specialized education who uses scientific principles to explain, understand, observe, or forecast the earth's atmospheric phenomena and/or how the atmosphere affects the earth and life on the planet.”
  • Reporters and Correspondents  - Report and write stories for news outlets.