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Climate, Weather



Hurricanes Dean and Felix both made landfall in Central America in 2007. It was the first time since record keeping began in the late 1800s that two Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes made landfall in the same year. Also, on the same day Felix came ashore, Hurricane Henriette made landfall across the southern tip of Baja California. This marked the first time Atlantic and Pacific hurricanes made landfall on the same day, according to National Hurricane Center records that date back to 1949.

Are hurricanes increasing in intensity and frequency?

A look at the past tells us that intense hurricanes have plagued humans for some time. Even Columbus' fourth voyage in 1502 was marred by a colossal hurricane - one that sunk 20 treasure ships and killed 500 sailors in a nearby Spanish fleet. Was Katrina in 2005 the most devastating hurricane to hit North America in recent history? One might consider the Great Galveston Hurricane at the beginning of the 20th century as a contender.

Galveston, Texas, was on the rise in 1900. A major seaport for shipping cotton, it was in a race with Houston for prominence on the Texan coast. Sixteen foreign country consulates and millionaires' mansions graced the city of 37,000 people. Galveston was totally unprepared for what was about to happen. Many thought it nearly impossible for a hurricane to threaten the city. In late August and early September a tropical storm tracked across the Caribbean Sea and passed between Cuba and Florida. Many believed the storm would turn to the northeast as it passed the Florida Straits north of Cuba. This was a commonly accepted notion of how tropical cyclones were supposed to behave. It was unheard of for them to continue to the west.

But this storm, after strengthening into a hurricane just past Florida, would continue northwest on a path directly toward Galveston. The hurricane pushed a wall of water over 15 feet deep onto the island that, at its highest point, was only 8.7 feet above sea level. The wind whipped through Galveston at what was later estimated to be Category 4 speeds (131-155 mph). A 150 mph gust would have a pressure of 100 pounds per square foot. The lowest barometric pressure recorded during the storm was 28.44 inches. (NOAA later estimated that the pressure near the storm's eye was probably closer to 27.49 inches.)

On Sept. 9, Galveston lay in desolation. More than 6,000 people lost their lives to what remains the deadliest hurricane to ever hit the United States (some estimates range as high as 12,000 deaths). In addition to the thousands dead, the storm left millions of dollars of destruction in its wake. After making landfall at Galveston, the storm tracked north through Texas and then into Oklahoma and Kansas. The remnants of the storm made it northeastward across the Great Lakes and into Canada before passing north of Halifax on Sept. 12 and disappearing into the North Atlantic.

In addition to the loss of life and property, Galveston lost its allure as shipping firms moved their businesses to Houston. Galveston is now protected by a huge levee system to guard against future storms. Also, after the disaster, a six-mile long seawall was erected and has since been extended and the island was raised by pumping sand from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. All buildings and roads were also constructed with elevated foundations in the city. When the Galveston Hurricane of 1915 hit, the city was much better prepared.



Now that Hurricane Katrina has once again awakened us to the threat of extra strong hurricanes, your group has been called upon to conduct an Earth system analysis of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane as a case study in how to prepare for this increasingly dangerous threat from Mother Nature.


Date: 10/14/2007

Scenario Images:

City of Galveston, Texas Sep. 9, 1900
Over 6,000 people lost their lives when the hurricane hit Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

27 storms
Arlene to Zeta: 27 Hurricanes of the 2005 Season:
This 5-minute data visualization from NASA shows all 27 named storms of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season and examines some of the conditions that made hurricane formation so favorable. May take several minutes to load on slower connections. Tip for using in the classroom: download the animation to your computer.

Path of Galveston Hurricane
The path of the Galveston Hurricane. Courtesy of NOAA.



Hurricane Histories (Cycle A)
Major Hurricane Landfalls: Includes Katrina and the Great Galveston Hurricane.


Hurricane Ike 2008 (Cycle A)
Hurricane Ike hit Galveston in 2008. Was the devastation worse than in 1900?

  • Pre- and Post-Ike comparisons from the USGS.
  • Ike reshaped the seafloor.


Hurricane-Biosphere Connection (Cycle A)
NASA data shows hurricanes help plants bloom in "ocean deserts".


Hurricanes and Sea Surface Temperature (Cycle A)
Explore how the sea surface temperature affects the change of intensity of hurricanes using this interactive Java Applet developed by the University of Wisconsin (note: Java needs to be enabled in your Web browser).


NASA Hurricane Website (Cycle A)
This site provides a wide variety of information regarding recent and historic hurricanes. A collection of links feature information including the latest images and animations from recent hurricanes, in depth web pages about hurricanes, educational tools and products, hurricane topics and the latest hurricane news.


NOAA's Hurricane Basics (Cycle A)
Start with NOAA Hurricane Bascis for general information about hurricane structure, origin and more. pdf


TRMM Sees Rain from Hurricanes Fall Around the World (Cycle A)
NASA Press Release from 2004 about the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM).


University of Illinois: Online Meteorology Guide (Cycle A)
Allows you to fly through a 3-D hurricane.


Weather Events: The 1900 Galveston Hurricane (Cycle A)
The Weather Events: The 1900 Galveston Hurricane. The Weather Doctor provides a moving account of the Galveston Hurricane's story.


Weather in Our Lives (Cycle A)
Help students design a weather based newspaper or to link to the Earth Systems Education program centered at Ohio State University.


Hurricanes: The Greatest Storms on Earth (Cycle B)
Reference article from November 1, 2006 on the NASA Earth Observatory.


NASA Hurricane Education (Cycle B)
Link to NASA educational tools on hurricanes including posters, visualizations and graphics, and classroom activities.


Seeing Hurricanes as Only NASA Can (Cycle B)
2004 NASA Press Release about Hurricane Frances.


Stronger Link Found Between Hurricanes and Global Warming (Cycle B)
This July 30, 2007 article on Scientific summarizes the results of a new study that suggests that hurricanes are on the rise and a warming Atlantic is to blame.


ILT Publications (Cycle C)
See the readings on pedagogy and technology.


Isaac's Storm: Linking Science, History and Literacy (Cycle C)
Looking for a good read for your students? Try Isaac's Storm: A Man a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Eric Larson. This is a moving, dramatic account of the approach of the storm and the nearly complete surprise hit on Galveston. Your students will learn about weather and come to appreciate the advantage we have now with satellites and aircraft. Click here for the Amazon reviews.


NASA has developed microsets of Earth science data for K-12 education, which can be used with existing curriculum and enable students to practice math skills using real measurements of Earth system variables and processes.

The microsets are created using data from NASA Earth science satellite missions and provide information on the atmosphere, ocean and land surface. New data types continue to be added to the collection. Data is available online along with K-12 lesson plans, computer tools and an Earth science glossary.

Use the Live Access Server to create your own microsets of NASA data. The LAS contains over 128 parameters in atmospheric and Earth science from five NASA scientific projects Click herefor an overview of the parameters and time period available.


The Deadliest, Costliest, and Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones From 1851 to 2006 (Cycle C)
This technical memorandum from NOAA/National Weather Service ranks hurricane damage, as expressed by monetary losses (contemporary estimates adjusted by inflation to 2006 dollars and estimates adjusted for inflation and the growth of population and personal wealth). In addition, the most intense hurricanes to make landfall in the United States during the period 1900-2006 are listed.


Sample Investigations:


Beginning Activity: The Eye of the Hurricane (Cycle A)
This lesson plan introduces students to the structure of a hurricane, particularly the eye. It can be used as an introduction to a unit on hurricanes or weather phenomena. Students will view a video about hurricanes, do a simple hurricane simulation, take a tour into the eye of a hurricane, and write reports about their tour. For grades 3-5.
Difficulty: beginner


Forces of Nature: Hurricanes (Cycle A)
Explore the violent nature of hurricanes, then build your own tropical cyclone; activity from National Geographic. For grades 4-6.
Difficulty: intermediate


MY NASA DATA: Hurricanes As Heat Engines (Cycle A)
Students examine sea surface temperature data to explore how hurricanes extract heat energy from the ocean surface Grade Level: 3 (gifted) and 4 - 12. Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will practice finding data via the Internet.
  • Students will practice making line plots and data maps.
  • Students will understand how hurricanes gain energy from the ocean surface.

Difficulty: intermediate


Natural hazards risks in the U.S. (Cycle A)
From National Geographic. Students have probably studied natural hazards (e.g., earthquakes or hurricanes) in elementary school. This lesson continues their education on this topic by asking them to examine specific locations of high risk for various natural hazards, to assess why these hazards exist where they do, and to investigate what towns and cities are doing to prepare for a natural disaster. In the process, students will practice their research and map-analysis skills. For grades 6-8.
Difficulty: intermediate


Weather in Our Lives (Cycle A)
Help students design a weather based newspaper or to link to the Earth Systems Education program centered at Ohio State University. Grades 6-8.
Difficulty: intermediate


Counting on the Havoc of Hurricanes (Cycle B)
Comparing Statistics of Hurricane Floyd to Other Recent Hurricanes: A Math Lesson. Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students define and classify all the different ways in which numbers are used in forecasting and coping with the effects of a hurricane. They then conduct research to compare and contrast these numbers as they apply to Hurricane Floyd and other recent hurricanes. Finally, they graph their findings. For grades 6-12.
Difficulty: intermediate


Hurricane! Event-Based Science (Cycle B)
An Event-Based Science module for middle school about one of the most devastating weather events that people can experience. The story focuses on the devastation that Hurricane Andrew brought to South Florida in August, 1992. This storm destroyed 25,524 homes, damaged 101,241 more, left 250,000 people homeless and 54 dead.

The task in Hurricane! turns your class into teams of experts. Each team will publish a newspaper account of a real hurricane that is approaching one of 11 American cities that have been chosen as the teams' home cities. Each home city has a history that includes hurricane strikes and damage. For middle school.
Difficulty: intermediate


Exploring the Environment: Severe Weather: Hurricanes (Cycle C)
This module asks student groups to track a past hurricane. Background information explains how hurricanes occur, how they are named, and the Saffir-Simpson Intensity Scale. The module is part of an on-line series from NASA's Classroom of the Future, which emphasizes an integrated approach to environmental Earth science education through problem-based learning, For grades 5-12.
Difficulty: intermediate


Stronger Hurricanes? (Cycle C)
Is global warming making hurricanes more intense? Have your students investigate this question using this online resource. The slide show, accompanied by a broadcast segment from the TV show, examines the link between rising sea surface temperature and storm intensity. The video clip is 6 minutes long. Links are also provided to a story about the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, to websites with related information, and to a teacher's guide and written transcript of the broadcast. For grades 5-12.
Difficulty: intermediate
Difficulty: intermediate


What Could a Hurricane do to My Home? (Cycle C)
This activity guide by IGES for Grades 5-8 explores the potential for global climate change to increase the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and storm surges, and the impacts that could result. Designed to teach through scientific inquiry, the activity seeks to stimulate thought about the long-term impact of a warmer planet. The activity responds to national education standards in the English language arts, geography, social studies, mathematics, and science. For grades 5-8.
Difficulty: beginner




  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      The understandings and abilities associated with the following concepts and processes need to be developed throughout a student's educational experiences:
      • Evidence, models, and explanation
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Structure of the earth system
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Natural hazards
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Energy in the earth system
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
      • How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth’s surface
      Physical processes shape Earth’s surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth’s surface
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