Lesson Plans

Hurricanes as Heat Engines Story Map

Student Handout(s)

Teacher Resource(s)

Grade Band

  • 6-8
  • 9-12



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Hurricanes as Heat Engines Story Map


This story map is intended to be used with students who have access to a computing device in a 1:1 or 1:2 setting.  Using various visualizations (i.e., images, charts, and graphs), students will explore the energy exchange that occurs when hurricanes extract heat energy from the ocean. 

Learning Objectives

  • Students will analyze NASA sea surface temperature data to use as evidence to explain a phenomenon.
  • Students will explore how hurricanes gain energy from the ocean surface.

NASA Phenomenon Connection

Hurricanes are the most violent storms on Earth. They are like giant engines that use warm, moist air as fuel, which is why they form only over warm ocean waters near the equator. The warm, moist air over the ocean rises upward and as the air continues to rise the surrounding air swirls in to take its place. As the warm, moist air rises and cools off, clouds form creating a system of clouds and wind that spins and grows, fed by the ocean’s heat and water evaporating from the surface. NASA satellites gather sea surface temperature data that can be used to explore changes that occur.

Essential Questions

  1. How is the development of a hurricane affected by sea surface temperature?
  2. How is thermal energy transferred within a hurricane system?
  3. How does a hurricane affect the different spheres within the Earth System?

Cross-Curricular Connections

National Geography Standard

How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.

STEM Career Connections

Atmospheric and Space Scientists - Investigate weather and climate related phenomena to prepare weather reports and forecasts for the public

Computer and Information Scientists – Conduct research in the field of computer and information science

Applications Software Developers – Develop and modify computer applications software that are used to communicate with satellites and people using satellite data

  • Computer Programmers
  • Systems Engineers
  • Software Engineers

Materials Required

Per Student:

  • “Hurricanes as Heat Engines Story Map Datasheet”

Per Student/Small Group:

  • Computer or Tablet
  • Internet Access

Technology Requirements

  • Internet Required
  • One-to-One (tablet, laptop, or CPU)
  • Visualization Tool Required

Background Information

The passage of a hurricane causes a large transfer of heat between the ocean surface and the atmosphere. It also causes surface waters to diverge, bringing cooler water from below to the surface (upwelling). These effects are so large that they can be seen by a drop in sea surface temperature (SST) in satellite data observations along the path of the storm. The cooler water conditions may last for a week or longer after the storm.


  1. Using an internet accessible device, students open the link to the Hurricanes as Heat Engines Story Map Lesson: https://nasa.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=abc5591aaa944c9ebc7b5ea6102c73c2 to begin their exploration of this phenomenon.
  2. Distribute the Hurricanes as Heat Engines Story Map Student Sheet. Have students navigate on their own through the Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate tabs of the story map to answer the questions and complete the activities on their student sheet.
Hurricanes as Heat Engines Story Map