Oct 27, 2021
Hurricanes (also known as typhoons and cyclones, depending on where they form) are rotating low-pressure weather systems with sustained wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour that originate over warm ocean water in tropical and subtropical areas. As average global temperatures increase and oceans continue to get warmer, the conditions for stronger, larger, and longer-lived hurricanes may become more common. In fact, over 90 percent of all the excess heat trapped by our greenhouse-gas emissions is absorbed into the oceans. That extra thermal energy in the oceans warms the air above it, causing it to rise. As the warm moist air rises, it creates an area of low pressure and the spinning of the Earth causes it to begin circulating (i.e., the Coriolis Effect). Warmer ocean temperatures can transfer more heat to the air, providing more lift and more powerful storms. A warmer atmosphere can also hold more moisture, adding the potential for more rainfall to occur during these more intense storms.
There are many other side-effects caused by extra heat in the atmosphere and oceans, but the ability of heat to strengthen storms and add more water vapor to these storms is an important concept for students to grasp. Of course, the human toll of these extreme events -- and their disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities-- should also be explored. To bring these topics into your classroom, try using one of the following hurricane lesson plans. You can also create your own lesson plan using the resources outlined in the last segment of this article. Help your students learn more about hurricanes and inquire, investigate, and inspire!
A Lesson in Meteorology by Our Climate Our Future
Grade Levels: 6-8
Subjects: Science, Earth Sciences
This Our Climate Our Future lesson plan uses weather mapping techniques to illustrate the relationship between hurricanes and global warming. There are also two youth climate videos provided for context that detail the effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. By learning how to read weather maps and interpret weather station models, students improve both their scientific understanding of hurricanes and their media literacy regarding hurricane news. They then apply this new toolset to the case study of Hurricane Irma, drawing isobars on weather maps. Finally, they learn about how climate change made Irma worse.
A Climate Justice Lens from StC
Grade Levels: 6-8
Subjects: Science, Social Studies, History, Geography, Math
This StC lesson plan brings together empirical evidence and ethical arguments to paint a picture of global climate injustice, with hurricanes serving as a key example. Students first explore interactive charts and maps of CO2 emissions statistics, practicing their data analysis skills while developing an understanding of the discrepancies in emissions between countries. They then watch and discuss a video about how we might distribute the responsibility of climate solutions between countries, which considers which parts of the world have the highest historical and present-day emissions. Finally, this issue of unequal carbon emissions --and the related issue of climate change’s unequal impact on different parts of the world-- is illustrated in a podcast episode about how hurricanes in Central America exist “at the intersection of extractive capitalism and the climate emergency.” This lesson plan can help your students think about hurricanes in relation to complex socio-political issues.
A Trauma-Informed Approach from ACE and Our Climate Our Future
Grade Levels: 3-12
Subject: Social Studies
For many young people, the climate emergency is not just a topic in school or on the news but a matter of lived experience. ACE made their Hope After Hurricanes lesson plan specifically for students who have been directly impacted by hurricanes. If a hurricane has hit the region where you teach, this lesson plan provides an excellent guide as you help your class to make sense of their experience. It includes an Our Climate Our Future video with messages of solidarity from youth who lived through Hurricane Sandy, as well as discussion prompts aimed at collective emotional processing.
A Hands-On Hurricanes Unit Lesson Plan by TERC
Grade Levels: 9-12
Subjects: Science, Physics, Geography, Earth Sciences
This is a comprehensive lesson plan about hurricanes, featuring videos, animations, data, satellite imagery, assessment questions, and experiments. Students will learn about the anatomy of a hurricane, what causes them to form, and where and when they typically form. They will use the satellite imagery, data, and experiments to understand the physics involved with hurricane formation and intensification. This is a great resource to get students actively involved and will make a lasting impression.
A Build-Your-Own Lesson Plan
Grade Levels: 6-12
Subjects: Science, Earth Science, Social Studies, ELA
Consider asking students if they are familiar with the devastating impacts of hurricanes and if they’d like to share their experiences or knowledge. Then, show this video: Youth Climate Story: Hurricane Sandy in Far Rockaway. It is a testimony from a young woman whose home was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in New York. After watching the video, you could lead a class discussion about potential solutions for areas like Far Rockaway, NY that are vulnerable to storm surge, sea level rise, and hurricanes.
Students watch How Climate Change Has Intensified Hurricane Season, a video by Now This Earth. This video interviews Katharine Hayhoe about the evidence of stronger, wider, and longer-lived hurricanes due to climate change. Consider asking students to take notes during the film and then having them work in groups to identify and discuss all of the evidence presented.
Ike Dike is an article and video resource by Texas A&M University about coastal damage from hurricanes in TX and the effort to build a protective coastal barrier to prevent flooding from storm surges. Consider using this resource as an example of a potential solution to storm-surge flooding and have students research other climate solutions that could be realistically implemented. Resources about climate solutions are available on our website to explore and research. Students could write a report about their ideas or a reflection paper about the human toll of more extreme hurricanes.
You can see more examples of our Inquire, Investigate, Inspire lesson plans here.
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No matter which lesson plan you choose, your students will benefit from a deeper understanding of how global warming and more extreme storms are connected and the human toll they exact. Climate change is a topic that applies to all subjects because it will affect our lives in almost every way imaginable. More powerful hurricanes that cause more damage and result in the loss of more lives do not need to be the new norm. With an understanding of how climate change is connected to these events, your students will be able to make changes in their daily lives and encourage their parents and communities to enact the solutions required to address this global problem. For more scientist-reviewed and teacher-approved resources about hurricanes, visit our website.