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teaching through trade books

Understanding Severe Weather Events

Science and Children—May/June 2023 (Volume 60, Issue 5)

By Christine Anne Royce

Humans have improved their ability to predict when and where severe weather may occur and also understand more about reducing the impact. Using one fictional and one nonfiction story, students are asked to consider how humans approach both understanding signs of extreme weather events and learning how it impacts humans. It is also important to recognize the recent disasters that have occurred in the country and be aware of how those may have impacted your students and their families.

This Month’s Trade Books



By John Rocco

ISBN: 978-0759554931

Little Brown Books for Young Readers

48 pages

Grades K–3


When a hurricane approaches an area, a young boy cannot go to his favorite place, a dock, but rather must go inside as others prepare for the hurricane. The hurricane destroys the boy’s dock, and everyone comes to help in the rebuilding of it. Throughout the story, indicators of a possible hurricane are described.

The Tornado Scientist

The Tornado Scientist: Seeing Inside Severe Storms

By Mary Kay Carson

Illustrated/Photographed by Tom Uhlman

ISBN: 978-0358743255

Clarion Books

80 pages

Grades 4–7


This Scientist in the Field book tells the story of Robin Tanamachi, who studies how tornadoes begin. The book addresses a variety of topics ranging from mathematical modeling to simply figuring out where to be when the storms happen.

Grades K–2: Sizing Up Severe Weather

Purpose: Students identify different types of severe weather and determine which ones are more likely to occur in their region.


  • Hurricane by John Rocco
  • chart paper
  • markers
  • Supplemental Resources at Weather Watchers Student Sheet, Pictures of Severe Weather, and Severe Weather Poster
  • Online Resources: severe weather videos


Begin by sharing the cover of the book Hurricane with the class and ask them if they have ever heard about hurricanes. If so, where, and what do they know? Allow students to discuss their initial thoughts and experiences first. Depending on where in the country the school is located or where they have lived, students may have varied experiences. Now ask students to listen as you read the book through the first time as a story so that they are focused on the storyline. After reading through the book, place the following questions on the board or on chart paper and ask the students to share answers to these questions.

  • What happened with the weather before, during, and after the hurricane?
  • What did people do?

Read through the story a second time, stopping at the following pages to discuss specific points with students and help students connect their answers back to these two questions.

  • Page before the title page: Look at these three pictures; can you describe the type of weather in each? Why do you think that?
  • p. 4: The boy is fishing on a dock near a river but says that the water comes all the way from the sea. Based on this statement, where do you think hurricanes occur?
  • pp. 5–8: What does the boy notice about the air as he walks home? What are people doing? What does the boy’s dad tell him?
  • pp. 9–12: As the day turns to night, how does the weather change? What are some things that happen as the hurricane approaches? In looking at the photo, how do these events differ from a normal rainstorm you might have experienced?
  • pp. 13–14: When the boy goes to sleep and dreams about what might wash up under his dock, the author shares many different animals. If the dock is in the river, why would he dream about whales and dolphins and sea turtles?
  • pp. 15–20: How had the weather changed when the boy woke up in the morning? What were some of the indicators that a hurricane had hit the area?
  • pp. 21–28: What did people need to do following the hurricane? What was the boy trying to do? Why do you think that people needed to fix, repair, or replace things after the storm?


Bringing natural hazards or disasters related to the weather into the classroom is a bit challenging. Therefore, each of the severe weather events utilizes a short video to help the students understand what the event is and where it might happen. For each event, begin by asking the initial question to generate student thinking, followed by showing the video. Following the video, allow the students to work in groups or lead a whole-class discussion around the questions on their Weather Watchers student sheet (see Supplemental Resources). The severe weather events are Thunderstorms, Lightning Storms, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, and Blizzards. The initial question for all the events begins with showing the students a picture (see Supplemental Resources) and asking them to share what they already know about the event. Questions include what is it called? How is it similar to or different from other events? Record this information on chart paper. The specific questions associated with each of the events can be found on their student sheets. As students watch the video, they should use the questions to help make observations about that type of weather and record them.


After students have had a chance to consider each type of severe weather, bring them back together and help them organize their thinking with the following questions:

  • Which of the following types of weather have you experienced? Can you describe where you were when it happened? Record their answers and location.
  • Which types of weather have precipitation that accompanies them? Which types of weather have increased clouds? Why do you think there is precipitation when there are increased clouds?
  • When one of these events occurs, what do you think the weather is like to begin with—for example, in the story the boy is shown wearing shorts. Do you think hurricanes happen in warm weather or cold weather? What about other storms?
  • Based on where you live and events you might have seen, what types of extreme weather do you think happens in your region? Explain your thinking.
  • What were some things that you noticed people doing before the weather event? Why do you think they do this?
  • If you were asked to describe each of the weather events to someone else, what description would you give? Can you include the words related to weather such as precipitation, clouds, and wind?


Ask the students to return to the initial question: What types of extreme weather have you experienced where you live? Ask them to think about what information they would be able to tell people about different types of severe weather if they were asked. Using the Severe Weather Poster Template (see Supplemental Resources), ask the students to create a poster that provides information about a particular type of severe weather using words and illustrations. Once they have completed their individual poster, ask all the students with a particular type of severe weather (e.g., hurricanes) to get together and compare what information they included. Once all the groups have discussed their particular type of weather, ask them to share their posters with the other members of the class.


While severe weather occurs all over the world, students at this level are asked to focus on severe weather in their local area. They are asked to share information about severe weather events they may have experienced. As they learn about specific types of severe weather, they are asked to consider the individual parts of weather such as wind or precipitation that accompany each type. Finally, students are asked to describe different types of severe weather and then select one of those to create a severe weather information poster.

Grades 3–5: Tracking Tornadoes

Purpose: Using the topic of tornadoes, students identify ways that humans can learn more about natural hazards to take steps to reduce the impact of the event.


  • The Tornado Scientist: Seeing Inside Severe Storms by Mary Kay Carson
  • Supplemental Resources at Tracking a Tornado Student Sheet and Tornado Research Guide
  • Online Resources: Tornado Videos, Starting Points for Research


Share page 3 of the book The Tornado Scientist: Seeing Inside Severe Storms with the class and introduce the scientist Robin Tanamachi by explaining that she is a meteorologist who studies tornadoes by “chasing them.”  Ask the students to discuss why a scientist would want to chase a tornado when other people are moving away from the tornado. Why do you think it is important to gather information about these events?


The students will break into groups and view the five different tornado videos that were taken by Dr. Tanamachi’s team or others who do the same kind of research. Each video shows a tornado, and along with the video is the data/damage report from the National Weather Service. Some reports include photos. As these reports were written in different years by the National Weather Service, there are different formats and amounts of information included. The process for making sense of these tornadoes is as follows:

  1. Ask the students to try and focus on what is happening in the video and make observations and notes on their Tracking a Tornado student sheet (see Supplemental Resources). Focus questions to assist them include: Does this area look like a location where many people live? How can you tell? While every tornado causes destruction, did this tornado cause destruction to manmade buildings or objects?
  2. After viewing the video, students then read the information on the report that describes the tornado.
  3. Using both the information presented in the video and the sheet, students should then answer the questions on their student sheet.


After students have had a chance to make observations using the videos, return to the book and read the selected pages and discuss the questions. Ask the students to incorporate their observations and notes from the explore part of the lesson.

  • p. 1–5: Why does Dr. Tanamachi want to learn more about tornadoes? She talks about tornadoes on the Great Plains (which are the ones in the videos) and tornadoes in the south. How are they different in terms of being able to predict them? The book notes that she wants to learn more about the conditions that occur when a tornado forms. Can you give examples from the videos where conditions were different between two tornadoes?
  • pp. 26–27: This section focuses on a person’s description of a tornado that occurred in Kansas. What part of the description (i.e., hearing the walls tearing) did you see in some of the videos? What happens to a building when a tornado hits it?
  • pp. 35–38: The videos you watched occurred in “tornado alley,” which is the middle of the country and located on the Great Plains. In this section, they talk about “dixie alley,” which is in the south. What questions would you ask if you were in Dr. Tanamachi’s role and chasing tornadoes? Why do you think answers to those questions would help people be able to prepare in advance?

General discussion questions also include, how do scientists like Dr. Tanamachi help us better understand severe weather? Look back at the reports. Are there any differences that you notice? Why do you think the National Weather Service provides this type of information after a tornado has hit?


It’s your turn to chase a tornado—well, at least one that has already happened. Select from either of the following tornadoes that were mentioned in the book: May 31, 2013, El Reno, Oklahoma Tornado, and May 22, 2011, Joplin, Missouri Tornado.

Use the Tornado Research Guide (see Supplemental Resources) to help conduct research on the tornado you selected and prepare a report that you could share if someone was looking for more information about these events. (There is a link in the Online Resources for each tornado.) After students have had a chance to conduct their research, ask all of the meteorologists for each tornado to hold a meeting where they confirm their information and data. This can be facilitated by asking specific questions that would have right/wrong answers such as what EF scale was the tornado. Ask the students to also note where there are/are not differences in what they found. Why would there be differences in some data?


Students share their initial understanding about tornadoes and about why a meteorologist would want to chase a tornado. After this initial discussion, they take on the role of storm chasers (after the fact) by watching videos and looking at data about tornadoes to make observations and answer questions. When they return to parts of the book, they are connecting their understanding from the videos to what Dr. Tanamachi discusses in the book about chasing tornadoes. Finally, they are asked to generate their own report after research about a single tornado and confirm their information with other peers.

Online Resources

For K–2 activity


Lightning Storm


Thunderstorms (Show 1:00-4:00)


For 3–5 activity

Tornado1 (Rozel, Kansas)

Tornado2 (Tornado in the Witchita Mountains)

Tornado3 (Poynette, Wisconsin, Tornado)

NWS Data/Damage Report

Tornado4 (Laomi, IL)

NWS Data/Damage Report


NWS Data/Damage Report

El Reno Tornado Starting Point

Joplin, Missouri Tornado Starting Point

Christine Anne Royce ( is a professor at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and past president of NSTA.

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