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May 15, 2017

Student Reporting Labs STEM Lesson Plan: Storm chasing reveals clues to our weather future

Storm chasing: We do not recommend you try this at home! The top 208 weather and climate disasters in the United States have resulted in a total cost of more than $1.1 trillion since 1980, according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

In this lesson based on a PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs’ video, students will make predictions about how the frequency and impact of these disasters will change in the future due to the effects of human activity on the climate.




Science, environmental science, biology, social studies, technology, computer literacy

Essential question

How will humans be impacted by extreme weather events now and in the future?


Students will be able to explain the frequency and impact of extreme weather events and predict ways these effects may change in the future.


Recent years have brought an increase in the number and cost of extreme weather events. Moreover, the number and severity of weather disasters is expected to increase in the future as a result of global climate change. This lesson will demonstrate the significance of these major weather events historically and in the future. Students will explore historical weather and climate disasters on a local and global scale, and make predictions about how the frequency and impact of these events will change in the future due to the effects of human activity on the climate.


  • Video: “Storm Chaser
  • Sticky chart paper
  • Markers
  • Computers with internet access
  • Projector/projector screen


Warm up activity:

Write the following quote on the whiteboard and read it out loud with your students:

“Extreme weather and climate events—such as drought, heavy rain, and heat waves—are a natural part of the Earth’s climate system. Nonetheless, extreme weather and climate events can have significant impacts on our lives and on the environment.”

–NOAA’s website

Watch the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs video, “Storm Chaser,” produced by PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs (SRL) at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, Arizona.

Have your students discuss the following questions in small groups, taking notes on sticky chart paper. When the students are finished brainstorming, they should hang up the chart paper in the classroom.

  1. What phenomena do you think are considered “extreme weather and climate events”?
  2. What extreme weather and climate events occur locally?
  3. What extreme weather and climate events have you experienced?

Have your students complete a “Gallery Walk,” making a circuit of the posted chart paper with markers in hand. Students should make a check-mark on their peers’ chart paper to show if they agreed with the statement.

Main Activity: Extreme Weather Events Presentation Project

Students will create a presentation in Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides in which they collect information about one type of extreme weather event, which they will present to their peers in a slideshow.

The presentation will include information about:

  • the phenomenon’s occurrence and severity
  • the scientific causes of the phenomenon
  • a prediction about how global climate change will affect the future instances of the phenomenon.

The presentation should include:

  • important definitions
  • images
  • explanations necessary to explain the content to a grade-level peer.

The poster should include information from parts 1, 2, and 3 below:

Part 1:

Research the following: First have students decide which type of extreme weather event they would like to research (e.g. flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes). They may work independently or with a partner. Students may choose a weather phenomenon from this map:

Students should begin making a presentation with information about the type of weather event, including:

  1. the type of extreme weather event
  2. where this phenomenon is likely to occur
  3. how often this phenomenon is likely to occur
  4. one occasion of this phenomenon from the last 20 years (e.g. Hurricane Katrina, California’s multi-year drought)
  5. the cost of this event (financial, human, natural resource, etc.)
  6. images of the phenomenon and its effects to make the presentation more engaging

The following sites offer a good starting point:



Part 2:

In the next part of the presentation, students should include a scientific explanation of how and why this type of weather event occurs. If applicable, students should incorporate content from science class. Try to include the following information:

  1. What atmospheric conditions are necessary for this phenomenon to occur?
  2. What might cause this phenomenon to occur more or less frequently?
  3. Can humans do anything to prevent or mitigate the effects of this phenomenon?
  4. What conditions led to the specific example you described previously?

Part 3:

Write the following quote on the whiteboard and read it out loud with your students:

NOAA states, “In a non-changing climate, society and the environment are more likely to be resilient to weather and climate extremes as they acclimate to the historical range of extremes. However, as the climate changes these extremes may occur outside the historical range, resulting in societal and environmental vulnerabilities.”

Students should finish the presentation with a prediction of how they expect the frequency and severity of their chosen phenomenon to change in the future. Include the following predictions:

  1. How will the frequency of the phenomenon change?
  2. How will the severity of the phenomenon change?
  3. How will this impact the potential cost of each occurrence of the phenomenon? Consider the financial, human, and natural resource costs.
  4. Why did you make these predictions? Refer back to your scientific explanation of the phenomenon.

Finishing the Presentation

  1. Have students present their project to a small group or in pairs to receive feedback.
  2. Encourage students to revise, edit and practice their presentation.
  3. Have students present to the class. Allow peers time to ask questions. Consider having students provide additional feedback on their peers’ presentations.
  4. Have students reflect on their own presentations by sharing what they thought they did well and how they could improve for next time.

Extension Activities

Activity 1:

Explore more of Mike Olbinski’s photography by watching PBS NewsHour Shares’ 3-minute video, For this photographer, following the storm produces awe-inspiring results.”

Activity 2:

Explore photojournalism!

  1. Using a cell phone or camera, take photographs or videos of the weather over several days.
  2. Consider the following questions:
    • Were you able to capture any extreme weather events? Why or why not?
    • What could you do to capture an extreme weather event?
    • Why is it important to capture extreme weather events in photographs or videos?
    • What impact could you have with your photos?

Activity 3: Storm chasing

Create a plan for chasing an extreme weather event. Consider what atmospheric conditions you will need to find and what equipment you will need to stay safe. Design a storm chasing vehicle or camera setup. How will you keep your photography equipment safe? How will you keep up with the storm/event?

Activity 4: Get political

Use this website to find your congressman or congresswoman. Write a letter to him/her explaining the effects that global climate change could have on extreme weather events. Suggest ideas for helping to mitigate these effects.


NOAA: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/


Robin Satty is a chemistry teacher at Holy Family Academy in Pittsburgh, Pa. Before teaching high school, Satty taught general science at the middle school level and is certified to teach biology, chemistry and general science. Her background is in biology where she holds a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s in ecology and evolutionary biology from Brown University.

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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      Next Generation Science Standards

      MS-ESS3-2 Earth and Human Activity

      Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.

      HS-ESS3-1 Earth and Human Activity

      Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

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