California State Science Content Standards - Grade 5

Standard: 4d.
Students know how to use weather maps and data to predict local weather and know that weather forecasts depend on many variables.

Scientists use weather satellites to gather information on hurricanes. A satellite photo can tell a scientist where a hurricane is at any given moment and provide some information on current conditions. A series of photos can allow you to see the path of a hurricane over several days and calculate the speed of the storm. An accurate hurricane forecast cannot be based solely on satellite photos however, because there are multiple variables to consider when forecasting weather. Satellite photos alone cannot tell a scientist where a hurricane will be in three days or what future wind conditions will be, so current weather conditions and computer models are used to help scientists forecast hurricane movement.

Students observe a movie of Hurricane Emily as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico. They measure the distance that the hurricane traveled and the time that elapsed to quantify the hurricane's velocity. They then use this information to predict when the hurricane might arrive in southern California. Finally, they compare their forecast with a continuation of the movie that shows what actually happened on subsequent days.

There are a number of conditions required for a hurricane, including wide expanses of warm ocean water, warm and humid air, and normally weak upper-air winds blowing from the same direction as winds near the surface.

  1. Make sure students understand how to use the flags in step one before they continue to step two.

  2. Make sure students know that they can rotate the ruler when they measure distance.

  3. Remind students to print their data and the conclusion questions because they will turn them in at the end of the lesson.

  4. After they have gone through the Learn More page and the class discussion, remind students to make any necessary changes to their answers for the conclusion questions before turning them in.


  1. Ask the students if they have ever seen a hurricane forecast on the news. What factors do forecasters need to consider when they make a prediction? Is there any recent hurricane activity in the news? Review what the students already know about hurricanes. (5 minutes)

  2. Tell the students that they will use the Weather and Water Web site to observe the path of a hurricane and make a forecast.

  3. Direct students (individually or in their investigation teams) to follow the directions on the Web site to complete the activity and answer the conclusion questions.

  4. Website Activity (35 minutes)

    STEP 1:  Students receive an overview and learn how to use the special tools in this activity through a tutorial movie.

    STEP 2:  Students observe the movie of Hurricane Emily.

    STEP 3:  Students measure distance and elapsed time, and use their measurements to calculate how fast Hurricane Emily moved.

    STEP 4:  Students forecast when Hurricane Emily might arrive in southern California.

    STEP 5:  Students answer and print conclusion questions based on their observations and calculations.

    STEP 6:  Students view a conclusion page that explains more about hurricanes and hurricane forecasting. They make any necessary changes to their answers for the conclusion questions before turning them in to the teacher.

  5. Review the conclusion questions and the Learn More page as a class. Ask students to record any additional information or questions generated by the discussion in their Science Notebooks. Collect the conclusion questions from each team so you can review them.
    (10 minutes)

Review Questions:
  • How fast did Hurricane Emily move? Was Emily's velocity faster or slower than the speed of a car on a freeway? Pretend there is no traffic.

  • When did you forecast that Hurricane Emily would arrive over southern California?

    Answers will vary. Confirm that the prediction is reasonable based on the velocity from the previous question.

  • How accurate was your prediction? What was the time difference between the time that you forecasted and the time Emily actually arrived?

    Answers will vary depending on the prediction.

  • After Emily arrived in Mexico, was it as easy to pick out Emily on the satellite images? Describe how Emily changed and why these changes occurred.

    It was more difficult to see Emily on the satellite images. Emily broke up over Mexico because it was over land and lost its source of energy, which is the warm ocean water in the Gulf of Mexico.


    ©2005 by the Regents of the University of California and the Ocean Institute.
    All rights reserved.
    Last modifed Wednesday, August 24, 2005