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Hurricanes, the most powerful and dangerous storms of all, get their energy from the difference in temperature between a warm ocean and a cooler atmosphere. A century ago, hurricanes blew in with almost no warning; now they are tracked from the sky and space, and every year, warnings get a bit more useful. How do hurricanes work, and how do we predict them?

Hurricanes feature image of flooded highway and submerged cars

October 29, 2012: A section of US 158 in North Carolina, as Hurricane Sandy makes landfall.

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Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss: What is the most deadly aspect of a hurricane?
  2. What is the ultimate source of a hurricane’s energy?
  3. Hurricanes are described as “heat engines” that use heat energy to create motion, or more properly, to “do work.” Discuss other heat engines, powered by fossil fuel, geothermal energy or wind. What is the ultimate source of energy, and how is it transformed on the path to doing work?
  4. Why is the path prediction of a hurricane cone-shaped? Where else in nature would a prediction have a similar shape?
  5. How does a hurricanes change when it crosses from the ocean to land? What causes these changes?
  6. Aside from changes in the number and intensity of storms, why is hurricane damage increasing?

Lesson Plans/Activities

  1. Create a ‘cane! Create the ideal conditions for a hurricane through this interactive game. Recommended for grades 5-8. What are the ideal conditions?
  2. Track that storm! During hurricane season, students can track the status of hurricanes. They should record the daily storm activity, even if there are no storms. What does this year’s hurricane record say about the cyclic nature of hurricanes? Recommended for grades 6-10.