Upper-elementary and middle school students learn about the dangers of severe weather while playing an online game from PLAN!T NOW featuring Owlie and other characters from NOAA's Owlie Skywarn Weather Activity publication. (PLAN!T NOW)
In October 2012, the hybrid cyclone-nor’easter known as Hurricane Sandy roared toward the mid-Atlantic Coast. The reach of the storm was astonishing, with rain and high winds from the East Coast to the Great Lakes and snow across Appalachia. Even as the hurricane transitioned to a post-tropical cyclone, wind, waves, and storm surge wreaked havoc along the coasts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and New England. More than 100 lives were lost, and damage estimates are in the billions of dollars. Storms like this highlight the fact that coastal America is more than beautiful beaches. Millions of Americans live in heavily populated coastal areas that are increasingly threatened by change.1
In 2010, 164 million people—a little more than 50% of the nation’s total population—resided within the coastal watershed counties of the United States and its territories, including the Great Lakes. Averaging more than 300 persons per square mile, this coastal area is currently five times more densely populated than inland areas, and the population density at the coast is expected to increase in the future. Sea-level rise, storm surge, and loss of coastal wetlands provide multiple reasons for coastal communities to become weather-ready and resilient.2
Inland areas have also been severely impacted by weather-related disasters. The largest tornado outbreak in recorded history occurred throughout the eastern United States from April 25 to 28, 2011. At least 334 tornadoes— by some estimates, more than 430— touched down during this period, causin g at least 322 deaths. Straight-line winds and flooding resulting from the outbreak killed an additional 22 people. An estimated 190 tornadoes touched down from the early afternoon hours on April 27 into the early morning hours on April 28, setting the wor ld record for most tornadoes in a 24-hour period. Several major metropolitan areas were directly impacted by strong tornadoes, including Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville in Alabama and Chattanooga, Tennessee. This outbreak produced tornadoes in state s as far south as Texas and as far north as New York. According to preliminary reports, this outbreak, combined with the tornadic storm systems that hit the same regions during April 22–24, accumulated more than $7 billion in economic damages.3
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wants to help individuals and communities be ready for these extreme weather and water events—and to help educators teach their students about the phenomena. The agency has a unique focus on monitoring, predicting, and managing the Earth’s dynamic natural environment, including weather, space weather, natural hazards, and ocean ecosystems and marine conditions. NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) employees are distributed in 122 Weather Forecast Offices, 13 River Forecast Centers, and nine national centers. More than 76 billion observations are gathered and processed yearly from the land, sea, and air using Doppler weather radar, satellites, data buoys for marine observations, weather balloons, automated surf ace stations, cooperative observer sites, storm spotters, reconnaissance aircraft, and instruments for monitoring space weather and air quality to produce 1.5 million forecasts and 50,000 warnings each year. Individuals of any age and school classes can co ntribute to this data stream through the CoCoRaHS project (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network) at www.cocorahs.org. Simple, inexpensive tools provide opportunities for students to collect and share rain, hail, and snow data from their own locations and view results from others.
NOAA’s array of observing systems provide historical and real-time scientific data to study the processes and interactions of Planet Earth. Data-rich resources are available for project-based and problem-based learning investigations in the physical, Earth and biological sciences, providing pathways for students to become informed planetary citizens. NOAA weather and climate websites offer primary data resources along with valuable information, video, and lesson ideas for educators. Using NOAA data sources, the number of project- and problem-based learning activities is limited only by the imagination of the educators and their students.
A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas identifies science and engineering practices mirroring the practices that NOAA scientists, technicians, and engineers use every day in providing critical weather and climate information for the nation. In a very real way, students can join the study of the weather occurring around them daily, and the climate changes that will provide challenges in the future. For high school students, lesson plans including Do You Want to Risk It? Natural Hazards Assessment; Hurricanes, Images of Katrina —Hurricane Damage Assessment; Keep Your Eye on the Sky: Clouds and Weather; and Do You Need a Map? Marine Navigation Using Real-Time Oceanographic and Meteorological Data from the National Ocean Service’s Education Library provide real-world data and analysis tools. (These lesson plans and more are available at http://1.usa.gov/cdxM8u).
The NWS JetStream—Online School for Weather and the American Meteorological Society DataStreme Atmosphere offer excellent opportunities for teachers interested in their own professional development about weather and climate. In addition, many links, online “interactives,” and lesson plans about weather prediction, global climate patterns, global precipitation, circulation patterns, and weather/climate/people can be found on the National Ocean Service website and within the NSTA Learning Center.
PLAN!T NOW (P!N), in partnership with NOAA, the American Meteorological Society, and the Midland Radio Corporation, have created the Young Meteorologist Program (YMP), an innovative, engaging, digital evolution of NOAA’s famed Owlie Skywarn Weather Activity publication, which educates upper-elementary and middle school students on the dangers of severe storms and safety information to protect themselves before, during, and after a severe weather event. YMP uses digital game play as students help Owlie and his companions through a severe weather journey while learning about severe weather preparation for tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms, lightning, and flash floods. Students wishing to play other environmental games can access more than two dozen at http://games.noaa.gov.