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Grades 6-8
In this lesson students will learn about different kinds of tropical storms throughout the world. They will learn about how the storms are different, how they are similar, and how they are distributed throughout the world. They will study specific storms in detail and create class presentations about them.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, earth science, social studies
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 1: "How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective"
Standard 15: "How physical systems affect human systems"
Two to three hours

Materials Required:
Students will
  • describe how a tropical storm develops and moves;
  • list and define different types of tropical storms and answer questions about them;
  • track the path of a tropical storm; and
  • study specific storms in detail and create class presentations.
Geographic Skills:
Asking Geographic Questions
Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Read the following summary to the class:

Tropical storms begin when areas of low atmospheric pressure interact with warm sea-surface temperature. A low pressure system picks up energy and moisture as it rotates over warm ocean water. A storm builds or dissipates depending on the temperature of the sea surface. A low pressure system intensifies as its winds pick up speed over warm water, and it weakens and dies over cold. Tropical storms rotate clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Northern. Most are born in late summer—July, August, and September in the Northern Hemisphere and January, February, and March in the Southern. Hurricanes are the storms most familiar in North America. Trade winds blowing east to west along the Equator carry lows from the coast of Africa across the Atlantic. Picking up strength and speed in the warm Caribbean, hurricanes spin at speeds of 74 miles an hour or more. Typhoons, sister storms of Atlantic hurricanes, start near the Equator in the Pacific. Typhoons usually last about a week then die over land, or turn northeast or southeast in an elliptical path and lose power over cooler water. The cyclones famous in the Indian Ocean emerge from an area near the Equator that separates the westerly and easterly trades.

Have students work in small groups to answer the questions and perform the tasks listed below. They can start their research with the following Web sites:

National Geographic: Nature's Fury—Hurricanes
National Geographic News: Perfectly Deadly
National Geographic News: When Hurricanes Threaten
Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory: Hurricane Research Division—Frequently Asked Questions
Colorado State University: The Tropical Meteorology Project
Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology (Australia): Surviving Cyclones
Hong Kong Observatory: Information on Tropical Cyclones
Hurricanes and Tropical Cyclones
NOAA: National Hurricane Center
Typhoon2000.com (Philippines)
Weather Underground: Tropical Weather


  • Define the terms "cyclone," "hurricane," and "typhoon."
  • Where and when do the different types of storms occur most frequently? Have students color in their blank outline maps of the world showing where the storms are most likely to occur.
  • How do the storms develop? Do they develop differently in different hemispheres? What circumstances are necessary for them to develop?
  • Name three of the most destructive tropical storms of the 20th century, and list the details (e.g., number of people killed and cost of damage).
  • Use a hurricane tracking chart to plot the coordinates of 1999's Hurricane Bret (click on "Coordinates"). At each reading, note the date, the wind speed of the storm, and the category of the storm. Color code Bret's path depending on the storm's rating. [Note: Students can check their work after they have finished at Weather Underground .]

Have a class discussion about what students have learned about tropical storms. Has any of them ever experienced one or known anyone who has? What was it like?
Suggested Student Assessment:
Ask each small group to choose a tropical storm from anywhere in the world to study further. (Try to avoid having more than one group choose the same storm.) Have the groups create class presentations about the storms they choose. Their presentations should include
  • a tracking map showing the path of the storm as it grew and diminished, including dates, wind speeds, and other relevant information;
  • information about how well the storm was predicted and how successfully evacuation was carried out;
  • news reports and photographs of the damage caused by the storm;
  • data regarding damages in terms of deaths and injuries, economic costs, etc.; and
  • how the people in the storm's path could have been better prepared for its effects.
Extending the Lesson:
  • Have students create lists of the top ten deadliest tropical storms in history (i.e., those that killed the most people), and the top ten most destructive (i.e., those that caused the most damage in dollar amounts).

  • Have students go to Web sites such as Disaster Relief and FEMA to read more about the damage caused by severe tropical storms. Ask them to create brochures explaining to people how they should prepare for them.

This lesson is made possible by a generous grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Sanctuary Program.

Related Links: