Hurricane Research

image of a hurricane, showing high wind speed in the center of the storm.

Image courtesy NASA: TRMM Satellite looks underneath of the storm’s clouds to reveal the underlying rain structure

You are a senior science advisor for the Louisiana Environmental Agency. Due to the recent damaging and deadly hurricanes during 2005 (i.e., Hurricane Katrina) through 2008, you, along with your team of climatologists, meteorologists, and environmental impact experts, have been tasked to study the danger of future tropical storms. Specifically, you will investigate the potential for future deadly and damaging hurricanes to impact the Gulf Coast area. Your research could help to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in property damage. Good luck.
Grade Level: 9-12
Estimated Time for Completing Activity: Two 45 minute class periods
Learning Outcomes:
  • Understand the factors that influence hurricane development
  • Research possible trends present in atmospheric and oceanic conditions which may affect future hurricane frequency and or intensity.
  • Create a summary discussing what steps should be taken, if any, to mitigate the danger of future hurricanes in your specific area or selected area for a better understanding of hurricanes
  • Computer with internet access
  • Google Earth installed on your computer.
  • Basic understanding of Google Earth
Lesson Links:

Hurricanes are referred to by different labels, depending on where they occur. They are called hurricanes when they happen over the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Such storms are known as typhoons if they occur in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, west of an imaginary line called the International Date Line. Near Australia and in the Indian Ocean, they are referred to as tropical cyclones.

Hurricanes are most common during the summer and early fall. In the Atlantic and the Northeast Pacific, for example, August and September are the peak hurricane months. Typhoons occur throughout the year in the Northwest Pacific but are most frequent in summer. In the North Indian Ocean, tropical cyclones strike in May and November. In the South Indian Ocean, the South Pacific Ocean, and off the coast of Australia, the hurricane season runs from December to March. Approximately 85 hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical cyclones occur in a year throughout the world.

Hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere usually begin by traveling from east to west. As the storms approach the coast of North America or Asia, however, they shift to a more northerly direction. All hurricanes eventually move toward higher latitudes where there is colder air, less moisture, and greater wind shears. These conditions cause the storm to weaken and die out. The end comes quickly if a hurricane moves over land, because it no longer receives heat energy and moisture from warm tropical water. Heavy rains may continue, however, even after the winds have diminished.


Plotting LAS Sea Surface Temperature data on Google Earth

1. Access the Live Access Server (Earth System Data Explorer) found in the lesson links. Click ‘OK’ when the ‘Please choose a dataset.’ box is displayed.
2. If you are not automatically prompted with parameter choices click on ‘Choose Data Set’ in the upper left hand corner of the screen then, click on Hydrosphere Investigation Protocols, then Water Temperature,, and then Daily Sea Surface Temperature (GHRSST).
3. Set the area of the map for plotting to 50 N Latitude through 5 S Latitude then 110 W Longitude through 5 W Longitude.
4. Change the date to August 29 2005.
5. Click on the radio button next to ‘Update Plot’ to see your changes.
6. Click on the ‘Google Earth’ Button at the top of the page, click on OK to prompt the download of your KML file.
7. Make sure to save the KML file that the LAS generated to your desktop.
8. Make sure that you have the Google Earth installed on your computer before trying to open the generated file.
8. After Google Earth is installed on your computer and is opened so that you are able to work in Google Earth, go to file, turn on your temporary places, open the file that the LAS generated and you saved to your desktop as per previous instructions.
9. The Google Earth kml file should open up automatically and allow you to see the sea surface temperature for the area and time selected.
10. In the Google Earth menu under under -my places- make sure that you have grid points selected.
11. Answer Questions 1-3 found in the Questions section.
12. Click on the western most observation station located in the Gulf of Mexico. Click on -time series plot. You should see a graph display for Time vs. Sea Surface Temperature (SST) data. (You should see later summer 2005 dates on the x-axis to confirm you did step 1 above correctly.) Make sure to save or print the resulting graph so that you can use it for reference.
– To generate this plot on your own: Go to the Live Access Server link found above, click on Hyrdrosphere Investigation Protocols, click Water Temperature, click Daily Sea Surface Temperature (GHRSST) then click NEXT. Under select View choose time series (t), for latitude use 26.4 N and for longitude use 90 W, for the date range use 1 jun through Dec 1, 2005, then click NEXT to generate your plot.
13. Using the graph that you just produced answer questions 4 and 5 in the Questions section of the lesson.
14. Open the Hurricane Mapping link in Google Earth.
15. The image now visible in Google Earth includes boxes that indicate the advisory locations for real-time data collection during the storm by either reconnaissance hurricane hunter aircraft, or from buoys sending data remotely via satellites. Click on these advisory boxes starting in the southeast and note the storm\’s classification and its wind speed as the storm moved toward the northwest selecting approximately every 5-8 advisories. Continue this exercise until you reach the hurricane symbol shown as 7 AM CDT Sun.
16. Answer questions 6 and 7 found in the Questions section of the lesson.
17. Watch the video -27 Storms of 2005- then answer questions 8 through 10.
18. Go to the -Earth Observatory on Hurricanes- link and answer question number 11.


1. What is represented by the red colors over the oceans in this Google Earth overlay?
2. How does the shading over the ocean relate to its surface temperature?
3. Focusing on the dark red in the Gulf of Mexico, what temperature value is shown?
4. What maximum recorded ocean temperature value is shown on the graph (be sure to include units)?
5. At what approximate date(s) did this maximum ocean temperature value occur?
6. What category hurricane was Katrina at number 22? What was the wind speed then?
7. What relationship do you see between ocean surface temperature and hurricane intensity?
8. What is the single most important ingredient necessary for a hurricane to form? (Support your answer with details on one or more storms from the 2005 Hurricane Season.)
9. Using Google Earth, examine advisory 10A closely. What inference can be made as to why Hurricane Katrina was temporarily downgraded from a hurricane to tropical storm? (Hint: Consider your answer question 9 above.)
10. Other than your answer to number 1 above, what other single condition was present for the record breaking hurricane development during the 2005 hurricane season? (Hint: You may have to watch the 1st half of the video again -27 Storms of 2005- video again.)
11. Hurricanes often strengthen over warm ocean water. Discuss below how the processes occurring inside a hurricane can feed the hurricane in the form of a positive feedback cycle?


1. Write a paragraph below discussing the factors that influence hurricane formation and the cause of hurricanes’ tremendous destructive wind speeds (hint: Consider both the atmospheric ingredients and oceanic factors.)

2. Create a graph using the data found in the -Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature Data- link (importing the data into Excel will allow for easier manipulation of the data). Once the Graph is finished be sure to save and print the graph out for later use or to hand in.

3. Use the Lesson links to do some more in-depth research on hurricanes and their various constituents. Once you have a better grasp on the subject write 1 or 2 paragraphs summarizing what trends if any are present in future hurricanes. Be sure to differentiate between the scientific hurricane intensity and frequency.

Lesson plan contributed by Zach Miller and ESSEA members

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