Hurricane Frequency and Intensity

Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Map
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.




In “Hurricane Frequency and Intensity,” students use selected historical data to determine the relationship between Sea Surface Temperature (SST) and the location, intensity and frequency of hurricanes. Through their analysis, students should determine that hurricane intensity is directly correlated with warmer sea surface temperatures.


The lesson requires computer access or downloading the maps beforehand. Teachers may need to provide additional assistance for lower level students in the use of the technology and in analyzing the data. The Live Access Server only displays sea surface temperatures on a daily basis, not weekly as stated in the lesson plan. This should not affect the lesson as sea surface temperatures do not change much day to day. Students can also download and print out more days of sea surface temperature maps for each hurricane studied.

In the Questions section, #5 asks about hurricane frequency as time passes implying that the intensity and frequency of hurricanes is increasing over time. According to, one of the links provided in the lesson, this trend may be exhibited in the North Atlantic, but not in all oceans.


Two of the resource lesson links have a broken URL. The Global Warming and Hurricanes link has moved to The Hurricanes, Climate, and Katrina: Research, Reviews, and Articles from Science Online link has moved to


Estimated time for the lesson is two 45-50 minute periods.


Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
  • Grade 9
  • Grade 10
  • Grade 11
  • Grade 12
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS3-5 Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence, for both data and climate model outputs, are for climate changes (such as precipitation and temperature) and their associated impacts (such as on sea level, glacial ice volumes, or atmosphere and ocean composition).

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to one example of a climate change and its associated impacts.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students use MY NASA DATA Live Access Server to download actual sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity data to investigate the correlation between the two factors. Question 6 addresses intensity and frequency of hurricanes, which can be used to forecast future events. The National Hurricane Center at has information on forecasting and global climate models.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students access maps on the Live Access Server to identify the relationship between sea surface temperatures and intensity of hurricanes. They observe the track of the hurricanes and the patterns of sea surface temperatures in the maps. Students address the validity and reliability of their conclusions about hurricane patterns when they answer the questions provided and write a summary paragraph.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students investigate selected hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and determine that hurricanes have the highest intensity when they are over open water that has a high surface temperature. When hurricanes move over land or over colder waters of the North Atlantic they lose their intensity. The hurricane patterns highlight areas prone to higher sea surface temperatures and hurricanes. The Extension activity asks students to summarize trends in hurricane intensity and frequency. The teacher will need to point out that our ability to model and predict tropical storm and hurricane development is greater than it has been in the past as evidenced by the information available in this resource. Human impact on climate is not addressed in this lesson although it implies that the number and intensity of hurricanes may increase over time. The teacher may want to use the data provided at to show sea level trends.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students examine maps to discover that hurricane intensity is strongly correlated with high sea surface temperature (SST). As they explore the Live Access Server, they should notice that hurricanes follow the path of the warmest water and they have the greatest intensity when they are over high SST areas. They may also notice that when the area of the Atlantic Ocean with high sea surface temperatures is largest, the number of hurricanes is the largest. The teacher may want to have students examine the SST for a longer portion of the year, for example by choosing the first day of each month and comparing the maps. The teacher may need to provide scaffolding for struggling students by asking questions so the students see these patterns. For example, “What patterns do you see in the temperature map and the path of hurricanes?”

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are engaged in three-dimensional learning while exploring the phenomena of hurricane frequency and intensity. Students use the Science and Engineering Practice of Analyzing and Interpreting Data and the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns when they examine sea surface temperature maps and compare that data with the historic hurricane location and intensity data. The Disciplinary Core Idea of our ability to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts of climate change is implemented when forecasting the locations and likelihoods of future hurricanes. To strengthen the lesson, students should investigate the use of technology to understand and predict hurricanes. They should also discuss the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.

  • Instructional Supports: Students are engaged in the phenomena of hurricane intensity using authentic data. While the lesson does not explicitly include it, there are multiple opportunities for students to both clarify their ideas and receive feedback, but the teacher will need to inject this discussion at appropriate times. No suggestions are provided in the teaching guide to support struggling students or for extension activities. Students who read significantly below grade level will need major modifications to complete the assignment. Unless students live in hurricane-prone areas, connections to home, community and their own experiences are limited. It would be helpful if this activity was completed during hurricane season when a storm is making news headlines. The activity uses scientifically accurate and grade-appropriate information. Student prior knowledge isn’t accessed.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Focus questions guide students in explaining the results of the data they examined. A teacher answer key can be obtained by emailing the authors; the link is included in the lesson. No scoring guides, rubrics, or formative assessments are provided. Representations in maps and data are accessible and unbiased, although struggling learners may need assistance in accessing and interpreting data.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Teachers will need a computer with Internet access for the lesson. Students will need to use the MY NASA DATA Live Access Server to find and download sea surface temperature maps. There is no technological interactivity. The directions for the use of the live Access Server are not clear. When on the Live access Server page, click on “Data Set.” Then click on “Oceans,” then click on “Daily Sea Surface Temperature. The “Weekly Sea Surface Temperature” is not available as a choice. Students can use the alternative without impacting the lesson. Each map will require students to change the area of the map displayed and the date. If a classroom does not have reliable Internet access, the teacher can download and print out the required maps and the Historical Hurricane Information before beginning the lesson.