About the Experiment

In this exciting 4‑H STEM Lab activity kids will be introduced to using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) by tracking the paths of two of the most destructive storms to hit the United States in recent history. Kids will learn how to combine maps with data and to draw comparisons between two sets of geographic information and analyze how this data can inform important lifesaving decisions.

This activity was adapted from Vermont 4‑H 2017 Lesson Sheets: GPS

Topic: GIS Mapping
Grades: 6 – 8
Estimated Time: 1 Hour
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What You'll Need

Pantry Staples

  • Ruler
  • Pen

Specialty Supplies

  • 2 blank printouts of the Atlantic Basin Hurricane Tracking Chart
  • 1 copy of Hurricane Katrina coordinates (located in PDF)
  • 1 copy of Hurricane Rita coordinates (located in PDF)

What to Do

  1. Handwrite in a larger size the numbers of the latitude and longitude lines next to those markers at the edge of the printed map sheets.
  2. Using the Hurricane Katrina coordinates sheet, plot the four coordinates on one of the two printed map sheets.
  3. Choose one point, recorded at the same interval, for each 24-hour period. For instance, if you choose the first data point for Katrina (recorded at 18GMT), choose that point for each subsequent day.
  4. Mark out each point of those 24-hour intervals.
  5. Use the ruler to connect each point.
  6. Repeat this process on the other map for Hurricane Rita.
  7. Once complete, compare and analyze the different paths of the two hurricanes

Bonus Fun

Repeat the mapping process, but instead of choosing one point from each 24-hour period, map out all four coordinates from each day. Then compare the second set of maps to the first and analyze the changes in trajectory that can happen within a single 24-hour period.

Questions to Engage Youth

  • What environmental/weather-related factors could meteorologists study to determine what creates a hurricane’s trajectory?
  • How can first responders use maps like these to prepare their responses?
  • GIS is the combination of geographic data, like a specific location, with attribute data, like the name or description tied to that location. Do you use GIS in your life now, and if so, how?
  • Think about your response to No. 3 and then ask yourself, how might first responders use GIS technologies to create more efficient responses to hurricane destruction and help save people’s lives?

Explanation

About the activity: Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean runs from June through November. These two destructive hurricanes occurred less than a month apart from each other in the late summer of 2005. Each created massive destruction on the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Historically, emergency responders have mapped hurricanes to try to prepare and target their responses, but relying on traditional physical maps that are not updated in real time can limit how effective those responses are.

About GIS: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can change that, allowing locals and responders to work together to create real-time maps and data systems to help save lives. In 2017, survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Texas created pins on Google maps and added attribute data like ‘Woman in Labor’ to help first responders. GIS was used after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 to track which parts of the island had lost power, cell service and access to potable water, and after Hurricane Irma, also in 2017, to map out flooded parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

About hurricanes: Hurricanes form when thunderstorms suck up warm air near the ocean’s surface and convert it into high-intensity, circular winds higher in the atmosphere. This occurs in the North Atlantic in the late summer and early fall, when the ocean is warmest in this part of the world. The winds of a hurricane spin around a core of low-pressure air, called the eye of the hurricane. A hurricane’s path is determined by global winds as well as the high- and low-pressure systems around it. Hurricanes begin as low-pressure tropical depressions; as they grow in force they are upgraded to tropical storms, and when these storm systems obtain sustained winds of 74 mph or higher, they are categorized as hurricanes. Hurricanes are rated on a scale of one to five based on their wind speeds and the potential damage they can cause. Wind speeds are just one factor in the damage a hurricane can cause–the other is the water that a storm can push onto land, called a storm surge, which can cause flooding. Most hurricane deaths are caused by storm surges.

4‑H STEM Lab on the Go!

Download and print the Hurricane Mapping PDF to ensure you have all the mapping materials and easily complete the activity in groups.

Download the Hurricane Mapping Activity

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