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Daily Do

Why are More Hurricanes Predicted This Year?

Crosscutting Concepts Disciplinary Core Ideas Earth & Space Science Is Lesson Plan NGSS Phenomena Science and Engineering Practices Three-Dimensional Learning Middle School Grades 6-8

Welcome to NSTA's Daily Do

Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.

Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.

What is sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.


Hurricane season in the United States officially runs June through November; strong storms that make landfall in populated areas can have devastating consequences. Therefore, planning and preparation is critical in coastal areas like those along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. To aid with planning, researchers and forecasting agencies each spring provide predictions on the number, severity, and likelihood of landfall of storms. Global weather is a complex system, so these numbers, both the predicted and actual values, can vary widely from year to year. For 2020, meteorologists are predicting a particularly active Atlantic hurricane season that could lead to a record number of hurricanes and an increased chance that a major storm will make landfall in the United States.

In today's task, Why are more hurricanes predicted this year?, students use an online simulation to figure out the main factors that contribute to hurricane formation and analyze data sets to evaluate scientists' claim about predicted hurricane activity in 2020.

"2020 Atlantic hurricane season could be one of the 'most active on record,' expert says"

Presentation of Phenomenon (What am I exploring today?)

Students will be exploring the phenomenon of the variation in the number and severity of Atlantic hurricanes year to year, and the launching point for this exploration will be scientists’ prediction of above-average hurricane activity in 2020.

Tell your students that you will be focusing on hurricanes today, and ask them what they know about hurricanes or to share any experiences they have had with hurricanes. Students in coastal areas are more likely to have direct experience, but many students will have heard about these storms, particularly major hurricanes like Katrina or Sandy. After this opening discussion, introduce the phenomenon to students by sharing the news article 2020 Atlantic hurricane season could be one of the ‘most active on record,’ expert says or this 2020 Atlantic hurricane season early predictions and names video clip. Ask students to share questions they think of during or after viewing the article or video. Here are some possible questions that may arise.

  • How do hurricanes form?

  • Why are some hurricanes stronger than others?

  • If all hurricanes form the same way, then why don’t we have about the same number each year?

  • How can scientists make these predictions?

  • Should we trust the predictions? Why?

Point out to students that it is a common theme in daily conversations to complain that meteorologists don't do a good job of predicting the weather. So, it is natural to wonder how scientists could possibly predict what will happen up to six months from now. In fact, comments on various YouTube videos of 2020 hurricane predictions include comments like “always wrong” and “not even once has your prediction been right.” Tell students that their task will be to evaluate the prediction that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season will be more active than usual. First, they will need to make sense of the factors that affect hurricane formation. Then, they will look at some of the same data that meteorologists have analyzed to determine whether evidence from data supports the predictions made in the news stories.

Using a Model to Investigate the Phenomenon (What factors affect hurricane formation?)

Say to students, "Many of us had questions about how hurricanes form. Does it make sense to start there? We can’t go out and observe hurricanes directly, so we are going to use an online simulation that will help us understand how hurricanes form and why some hurricanes are stronger than others.”

Students will use the Make a Hurricane interactive simulation to make sense of the factors that affect the formation and strength of Atlantic hurricanes. Students can follow the on-screen directions to explore the role that location of formation, sea surface temperature, moisture, and wind play in whether a hurricane forms and how it gains strength. After exploring the simulation, students can obtain additional information from the accompanying reading How Hurricanes Form. Once students have completed these activities, ask them to explain in their own words how and where hurricanes form and how sea surface temperature, moisture, and wind affect their formation and strength.

Make a Hurricane Simulator

To fully understand how winds can vary over time and to make sense of the data below, students need to understand a bit about how the El Niño and La Niña phenomena affect wind patterns. Students can obtain information about this from the El Niño, Winds, and Hurricanes article. To introduce the article you might say to students, "We know how hurricanes form, but we haven't figured out why there are more hurricanes some years than others. I have this article that may provide the information we need to answer this question."

Analyzing Data to Evaluate the Claim (Does the data support the claim?)

Say to students, "We also wondered what evidence scientists are using to support their claim of a higher-than-average hurricane season. Let's look at some of the data scientists are using to predict how active this hurricane season will be." Students will use the crosscutting concept of cause and effect to evaluate whether the available data supports the prediction of a more active 2020 hurricane season. The scientific reports supporting predictions for the 2020 hurricane season cite two main categories of data: current or predicted sea surface temperature anomalies and predictions for the status of the ENSO cycle. Data snapshots for these two factors are provided in the Using Cause & Effect to Evaluate a Claim Google Slides presentation, and more information is provided below.

After reviewing the data, students should use the graphic organizer on slide 3 of the Using Cause & Effect to Evaluate a Claim Google Slides presentation to guide them in thinking through the causal chain that leads from each piece of evidence to its potential impact on the 2020 hurricane season.

  • What does the sea surface temperature data tell us about water in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea?

    • How would you expect this to affect the amount of moisture in the atmosphere?

    • How would you expect this to affect the formation and strength of hurricanes?

  • What does the ENSO data tell us about the El Niño-La Niña cycle?

    • How would you expect this to affect winds across the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea?

    • How would you expect this to affect the formation and strength of hurricanes?

After students individually complete the graphic organizer, ask them to share the cause and effect relationships they identified on their organizers.

Bring the group back together and facilitate a building understanding discussion. You might begin by asking, "Can someone remind us what phenomenon we are trying to explain?" Follow-up questions might include:

  • What are some of your claims?
  • What’s your evidence?/How did you arrive at that conclusion?
  • What questions do you have for this group about their claim?
  • ___ and ___ you made similar claims. Did you have the same evidence?
  • What can we conclude? What new questions do we have?

NSTA Collection of Resources for Today's Daily Do

NSTA has created a Why are more hurricanes predicted this year? collection of resources to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library by clicking ADD TO MY LIBRARY located near the top of the page (at right in the blue box).

Check Out Previous Daily Dos from NSTA

The NSTA Daily Do is an open educational resource (OER) and can be used by educators and families providing students distance and home science learning. Access the entire collection of NSTA Daily Dos.

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