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Weather or Not: Background

Teaching about weather is challenging, particularly when talking about weather events that may not typically occur in your geographic area. For example, if you live in California and start talking about the minute details that distinguish a typhoon from a hurricane, students’ attention can wander. Some students are visual learners, and need to see examples of the concepts presented. Some are active learners, and need to process information while doing something with it. Still others get overwhelmed easily, and need to have information presented in smaller chunks and constantly reinforced. SpicyNodes is a solution to all of those teaching challenges - and more. Not only does SpicyNodes accommodate different learning styles, but it is also an versatile tool for students of all levels of academic ability. With SpicyNodes, you can easily incorporate technology into your lessons, engaging students and putting them in charge of their learning experience. With SpicyNodes, you are indeed the “guide on the side” as opposed to the “sage on the stage.” In this lesson, students will explore hurricanes and other tropical cyclones, and compare and contrast them with tornadoes. They will take the information gathered to create their own study guide tool using SpicyNodes’ online authoring applications.

Standards and Benchmarks

This lesson addresses the following Project 2061 Benchmarks:
  • Climates have sometimes changed abruptly in the past as a result of volcanic eruptions or impacts of huge rocks from space. (4B/M6)
  • Water evaporates from the surface of the earth, rises and cools, condenses into rain or snow, and falls again to the surface. The water falling on land collects in rivers and lakes, soil, and porous layers of rock, and much of it flows back into the oceans. The cycling of water in and out of the atmosphere is a significant aspect of the weather patterns on Earth. (4B/M7)

This lesson addresses National Science Content Standard D for grades 5-8, as described below:

Earth and Space Science
As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should
develop an understanding of:
* Structure of the earth system
* Earth’s history
* Earth in the solar system

* The solid earth is layered with a lithosphere; hot, convecting mantle; and dense, metallic core.
* Lithospheric plates on the scales of continents and oceans constantly move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle. Major geological events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from these plate motions.
* Land forms are the result of a combination of constructive and destructive forces. Constructive forces include crustal deformation, volcanic eruption, and deposition of sediment, while destructive forces include weathering and erosion.
* Some changes in the solid earth can be described as the "rock cycle." Old rocks at the earth’s surface weather, forming sediments that are buried, then compacted, heated, and often recrystallized into new rock. Eventually, those new rocks may be brought to the surface by the forces that drive plate motions, and the rock cycle continues.
* Soil consists of weathered rocks and decomposed organic material from dead plants, animals, and bacteria. Soils are often found in layers, with each having a different chemical composition and texture.
* Water, which covers the majority of the earth’s surface, circulates through the crust, oceans, and atmosphere in what is known as the "water cycle." Water evaporates from the earth’s surface, rises and cools as it moves to higher elevations, condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects in lakes, oceans, soil, and in rocks underground.
* Water is a solvent. As it passes through the water cycle it dissolves minerals and gases and carries them to the oceans.
* The atmosphere is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and trace gases that include water vapor. The atmosphere has different properties at different elevations.
* Clouds, formed by the condensation of water vapor, affect weather and climate.
* Global patterns of atmospheric movement influence local weather. Oceans have a major effect on climate, because water in the oceans holds a large amount of heat.
* Living organisms have played many roles in the earth system, including affecting the composition of the atmosphere, producing some types of rocks, and contributing to the weathering of rocks.

Content Knowledge for Teachers

Tornadoes and hurricanes are common major weather systems that can major damage on earth’s land masses. A variety of mechanisms give rise to thunderstorms, and storms behave somewhat differently in the various climatological regions of the world. All types can occasionally become severe. A thunderstorm is officially considered severe if it produces a tornado, winds in excess of 58 mph (26 m/s), or surface hail greater than 0.75 inch (20 mm) in diameter. A few times each year, from early June through October, low pressure systems (termed tropical cyclones) form over warm ocean waters in the tropics. Occasionally, where sea surface temperatures are greater than 22° C (72° F) and when winds high in the atmosphere are supportive, one of these systems will become more organized and intensify to become a hurricane (wind speeds exceeding 73 mph - 64 knots - or more). A fully developed hurricane has a calm, central core, or eye, surrounded by very strong winds concentrated in a doughnut-shaped region of heavy rain, termed the eyewall.

The following links provide more background:

A short background on tornadoes and hurricanes from the BBC describes tornadoes, hurricaines, and storm surges, as well as how they form and their primary characteristics.
National Hurricane Center
The Weather Channel
Information on hurricanes and tornadoes from FEMA:


Cumulonimbus cloud: The parent cloud of a thunderstorm. The cumulonimbus cloud towers above the ordinary cumulus clouds with stronger or severe storms: it often has a more sharply outlined "hard" appearance with relatively rapid rising motions visible.

Cyclone: An area of low atmospheric pressure with winds blowing around it. As viewed from above, cyclones (more commonly called "low pressures") rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

Hurricane: A tropical cyclone with winds of 74 miles per hour or more.

Storm surge: A rise of the sea preceding a storm (usually a hurricane) due to the winds of the storm and low atmospheric pressure.

Tornado: A violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a cumulonimbus cloud to the ground. They have been called "twisters" and "cyclones," but these words are mere synonyms for the most violent storm on earth. Wind speeds have been estimated up to 300 miles per hour.

Tropical cyclone: A low pressure system in which the central core is warmer than the surrounding atmosphere.

Tropical storm: A tropical cyclone with winds from 39 to 74 miles per hour.

Tropics: The region of the earth from latitude 23.5 degrees north (Tropic of Cancer) to 23.5 degrees south (Tropic of Capricorn).

Typhoon: A tropical cyclone with winds more than 75 miles per hour and located in the North Pacific, west of the International Date Line.

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