Penn State NASA

Lab 2: Hurricanes


Lab 2: Hurricanes

Download this lab as a Word document: Lab 2: Hurricanes   (Please download required files below.)

In this lab, we will observe the tracks of the largest storms of the last century, and learn about the impacts of those storms on land.

The goals of the lab are:

  1. to determine the main causes of damage from storms including wind, rainfall and flooding, and storm surge;
  2. to observe the relationship between storm intensity and warming.

Files to Download:

  1. Hurricane Tracks
  2. Temperature Anomalies


There are two Google Earth maps to load, the first, Hurricane Tracks kmz file, shows tracks of storms from 1900 to 2017. The second, Temperature Anomalies kmz file, shows average August temperatures for each year calculated relative to the average temperature between 1900 and 1910. You can switch back and forth between maps. Both maps have sliders at the top left of the screen that allow you to look at storms as well as temperature over time. The storm tracks have points that show the wind speed and pressure at different stages in its development. We definitely recommend that you don’t try to look at the storms all at once or you will see a maze of lines. Please make sure that the slider at the top left has the relevant range of dates on it, otherwise, you will not be able to view tracks for the desired storm. Also, there are a few storms including Betsy whose names do not show unless you zoom in close. Note also, we break up the 2000-2010 and 2010-2017 decades.

As in the lab for Module 1, we begin with some practice questions that you can take in the Lab 2 practice submission, where you will receive the answers to the questions. Once you feel good about these questions, move on to the graded assignment. If you have any questions about the practice questions, please let us know. Remember, you only get one attempt at the graded assignment.

The video below will help you with operations in Google Earth.  We HIGHLY recommend you watch it to learn exactly how to manipulate the files and use the historical imagery.

Video: Controls for Module 2 Lab (06:35)

Controls for Module 2 Lab
Click here for a transcript.

Okay, students. So today I'm going to show you the controls for the module 2 lab. And I have two files that I've opened over here at the KMZ files - temperature anomalies and hurricane tracks, on the left side here. And I'm gonna start by showing you hurricane track controls. Click on the triangle to open up the different decades. These hurricanes are grouped by decades and you can see here 2015's, which is 2015 to 2017. Here are my three recent hurricanes - Maria, Irma, and Harvey. And I'm gonna open these. And here you can see the tracks for these three storms - Harvey, Maria, and Irma. And why don't these all three occur? The problem is here I've got my historical imagery up on the left, which we're going to use for later on, and I'm gonna back this out a little bit, and I'm gonna go forward a little bit, and you can see them all come on. The problem was that I didn't have the right time window in my historical imagery. So if anything goes wrong with this lab, with the Google Earth buzzes lab, please look at your historical imagery to make sure you're in the right time window. Okay, so here I'm showing all data between 2014 and 2017.

Okay, so I'm going to start off by looking at meteorological data for Hurricane Harvey, for example, which will show you the sorts of controls you need. And I'm going to zoom in on the Texas coast and you can see these points, which provide the actual data for landfall, and you can see this point here is Harvey 10, which is very close to the landfall. You click on the point, the wind speed is 115, the pressure is 938 millibars, and the precipitation is 60.6 inches. That is an example. So if I go back out aways again and I look at Hurrican Irma when it came into Florida. Click on this point here, I get 95 miles per house wind speed, 938 pressure.

Okay, so that's the first control that you're gonna need to know how to do for the first part of the lab. And then we're going to start looking at historical imagery for the labs. This is a little bit more tricky. So let's say I'm gonna go to New Orleans. Let me go to North Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans, which is one of your locations. And I can't type. Claiborne. C L A B O U R NE Avenue in New Orleans. I'm gonna go search. Should take me right in there. Here we go. So in we go towards North Claiborne Avenue. Hope you don't get dizzy. And I'm gonna look at this general vicinity for the storm, which was called Katrina, most of you probably remember Hurricane Katrina. And this part of the lab is all about your historical imagery, which is up here. Okay, my historical imagery is on and I can turn it off with this little globe here,  it's actually a clock. So I'm turning it off, turning it on. Okay, so it's on/off. Sometimes I don't know which is which, but you just have to click back and forth. Now the critical thing here is, remember that you're looking in 2005, so you've got to arrange this historical imagery thing - slider not a thing - to show 2005 in detail. So here I am, I'm going to slide it back to start in 2005. Here it is. I'm going to slide this back a little bit further to 2008. You can see the images changing. I'm going to move this forward here to about 2005, beginning of 2005, and then I'm gonna press plus, plus, plus. And the critical thing is, this is showing you the date here, so as I run this back the way to control this is not with the arrows, but running them back like this. So here we are getting all the dates and I go 2007, 2006, and here I am 2005, November. And then we go November 10th, October 10th, oh that's 2006, I'm sorry. You just got to play with this, guys. So I'm going back further. Here is December, November, 2005. We're now in 2005. Here we are in early November. Sliding this further, October, late September. You can see a lot of damage. Early, late August, before the storm, and then here we are just after the storm is flooding. So my my overarching direction is make sure that you have this in the right place using this using the controls on either end. But when you want to look in detail you have to be using this here, this control here, rather than the arrows, because I spent a large amount of time using these arrows and fumbling around and not getting the resolution so that you can look at really fine changes over short time periods. So make sure you use the slider. Slide this along once you have the right time window. Okay? So that is historical imagery, which I think you'll really enjoy.

And now I'm going to zoom out and show you how to look at the temperature anomaly data. I'm just going to go out to Florida and come way out. And so I'm going to turn this image off here. And I'm gonna close my hurricane tracks. And now I'm going to open my temperature anomaly file. And this will allow you to look at changes in temperature over decades. So this is 1960 relative to 1900 to 1910. 1965 you can see things cooling and then warming up again. And what's critical is, if you're going to be looking at Katrina, 2005, you click in 2005 you can see it was a fairly warm year. And then if you want to look at 2017, you click in here. That's very straight forward. You're gonna be able to rotate the globe so you can see the temperature and the Eastern Equatorial Atlantic, where the storms originated. So that's basically the controls for the module 2 lab.  Once again the historical imagery can be really tricky, but just spend some time and play with it. Make sure it's on. And I think you'll really enjoy the lab. So let us know if you have any questions and we'll talk to you later on.

Credit: Tim Bralower © Penn State University is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Practice Questions

Part A. In the first part of the lab, we look at the tracks of hurricanes. You will need to look for the storm names. Load the name of the storm once you have found it and click on a point to find the wind speed and pressure. For certain storms, we will include the storm surge as well as the precipitation in areas near the landfall. You will also need to observe the elevation of areas close to the coast and look at historical imagery to determine the impact of the storm on coastal communities.

  1. What was the wind speed of Hurricane Gilbert just before US landfall (click on the point closest to land)?
  2. What was the strongest storm in the 1960s at US landfall based on wind speed?
  3. Observe the storm surge of Hurricane Rita at Gueydan, LA (10 feet) and from the elevation, which is the closest to the extent of inland flooding? (Make sure terrain is switched on to read elevations and run the cursor over the map to see how elevation changes around the location of interest).

    A. About half of the town would be flooded
    B. None of the town would be flooded
    C. All of the town would be flooded

  4. What is the percentage of rainfall from Hurricane Georges near landfall compared to the average annual rainfall of southern Alabama (60 inches)? Please give your answer as a percentage.
  5. Here we are going to look at historical imagery to answer questions about the impact of storms on urban areas and the landscape. We will look at the 2005 Hurricane Katrina and its impact on Gulfport Mississippi. Enter “Gulfport” in the search box and fly to an elevation between 2000 and 4000 feet above the city. Turn on the historical imagery (clock at top left) and go back and forth between July 2005 and August 29, 2005 (right after the storm) photos using the slider. You will need to click the + button on the slider to get that scale of time change. Answer the following questions:
    1. What is the yellow material in the streets and parking lots very close to the coast after the storm?
    2. What is missing from the marina after the storm after the storm? We are looking for single words so your answers can be one word.
    3. Look at the parking lot across the four-lane road from the harbor area, what are the white boxes? (Look at both photos.)
    4. Does it look like the neighborhoods a block away from the four-lane road are inhabited? Yes or No

Part B. In the second part of the lab, we will observe the change in temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean over the last century that is related to the generation of more powerful hurricanes. Load and turn on the temperature anomaly kmz. By pressing the year buttons on the left, you can observe the temperature anomalies in August every five years (from 1910 to 2000) and annually from (2000 to 2017) relative to the average temperature from 1900 to 1910 file.

Center the map over the Atlantic Ocean so you can see Africa as well as North America including the Gulf of Mexico. As we have learned, the warmer the temperature the more energy to fuel hurricanes as well as the ability to hold more moisture.

  1. Which is the warmest year in the central Atlantic Ocean between 1910 and 1950?
  2. Which of the following is a year that the Gulf of Mexico had the highest potential to fuel strong storms based on temperature?

    A. 1965
    B. 1975
    C. 1985
    D. 1995
    E. 2005

  3. Which year would temperatures in the Atlantic have been favorable for hurricane development?
    A. 1960
    B. 2017
    C. 1990
    D. 2000
    E. 2007

  4. What is the general trend for temperature change between 1900 and 2017?
    A. Warming
    B. Cooling
    C. Stayed consistent

  5. Which decade would have been slow for hurricane generation in the Atlantic based on temperatures?
    A. 2000-2010
    B. 1990-2000
    C. 1970-1980