Hurricanes, Wind, and Water


To analyze hurricane data, looking for evidence of a relationship between wind speed and other factors.


  • Satellite images of a hurricane
  • Graph paper or spreadsheet

The Story

You have a friend who is a hurricane specialist with an exciting job. She flies through hurricanes. Her busiest months are August, September, and October. That's when most hurricanes form.

Hurricane images provided by Andrew Negri and Hal Pierce, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

On these flights, your friend gathers data from all parts of the hurricane, from the surface to the tops of the highest clouds. The data are used to analyze the strength of the hurricane and predict where it is going next. Yesterday, while flying through a hurricane, your friend noticed something interesting. For the third day in a row, the temperature gage showed a much lower cloud-top temperature than it did the day before. Over the same three-day period, the wind increased day-by-day and the hurricane moved over open water.

Since your specialty is analyzing satellite data, your friend has come to you for help. Her question: Is there a relationship between the temperature at the top of the hurricane clouds and the wind speed at the surface? And if not, what about wind speed and the surface over which the hurricane is passing? (More Information)

You have seven days of hurricane data. The infrared satellite images you will use show different colors to represent temperature. Wind speed is given in a table below each image. You will also want to note whether the hurricane is mostly over land, partly over land and partly over water, or mostly over water.


Go to the Infrared Hurricane Data and find the coldest temperature of the hurricane cloud tops on each image, and the kind of surface beneath the hurricane. Design a way to organize these numbers for easy comparison with the wind speed for each image.

Color/Temperature Scale

Temperature Scale

Do you see a relationship? Determine whether or not there is any connection between cloud-top temperature and maximum wind speed, and/or surface type and wind speed.


Prepare a fax to send to your friend. (If you're not sure what a fax looks like, ask your teacher to show you one or two samples.) In your fax, tell your friend what you found out about the relationship between wind speed and cloud-top temperature, and between wind speed and surface type. Be sure to show her why you reached your conclusions.


Copyright 1999-2007 Event-Based Science Project