Tracking Hurricane News

Main content

Students read news articles about Hurricane Irene, present information with classmates, and construct a timeline to describe the hurricane’s story over time and across geographic area, exploring what happened, how people were affected, and how they reacted.

Learning Goal

Students understand how data (information from news articles) about a natural hazard (a hurricane) can describe how people in coastal communities were warned, affected, and mitigated the impacts.

Learning Objectives

  • Students read a newspaper article about Hurricane Irene and summarize key points.
  • Student groups present information about articles to the rest of the class.
  • Students communicate the story of Hurricane Irene on a timeline.


Anastasia Rikard and her dog in front of her damaged house

Anastasia Rikard was inside her house in Prattsville, N.Y., when, weakened by flooding from the storm, it tipped over on its side.
Credit: Noah Rosenberg for The New York Times


Introduction and motivation

  1. Read a few of the news headlines aloud.
  2. Have students generate questions based on the news headlines. Post these questions in the classroom and revisit them at the end of the activity.
  3. Introduce students to hurricanes and to Hurricane Irene, the subject of this case study. Hurricane Irene made landfall in many places as it traveled north, so it made news in many places. (See the Tracking Hurricane News Google Slides. Each slide includes a URL for additional information.)
  4. Tell students that, for this project, they will create a timeline of Hurricane Irene using news stories to explore the questions: How are communities affected when a hurricane hits a coastal area?How are people warned and how do they react?

Intellectual engagement

  1. Familiarize students with Student Sheet A and how to take notes from their articles. (Consider using one article as an example if students need to build understanding of this type of reading comprehension.)
  2. Distribute one article to each student. If you wish students to work in pairs or groups (as outlined in Step 4 below) then make sure two or three students are reading each article.
  3. Each student reads one article, takes notes on Student Sheet A, and then discusses their notes with classmates who read the same article.
    1. Give students a strategy for how they will deal with words they don’t know. One strategy might be to list words and then look them up. Or note unknown terms on the board.
    2. Search for mapped locations mentioned in article.
    3. You may wish for students to make Google Slides or other presentation materials that they will share with their classmates.
  4. In a jigsaw method, student groups present information about their article to the rest of the class. During presentations, students in the audience take notes for their timeline (Student Sheet B) and ask questions of the presenting group.

Use of evidence to critique claims

  1. Each student makes the polished version of his or her timeline with poster board or butcher paper and includes a combination of detail, images, and quotes from each story. (Or, have the class make a timeline together with students contributing information from the article they read.)


  1. Students post their timelines around the room and take a “field trip” to see what others added to their timelines.
  2. Have the class return to the questions they generated at the start of the activity and consider how they would answer those.
  3. Lead a student discussion, or have students discuss in groups, the methods that might help people stay safe from a hurricane including actions that people can take.

Adaptation for high interest/low reading level: Use headlines only and locations of articles and have them make the timeline with only headlines. Read several of the articles as a group and discuss how news covers weather stories like Hurricane Irene.


About Hurricane Irene

In late August 2011, Hurricane Irene traveled through the Caribbean and up the East Coast of the United States. It was an unusual storm because it made landfall many times along its path. This led to news coverage from many different areas.

As a tropical storm, Irene made landfall in St. Croix on August 20 and in Puerto Rico on August 21. Irene intensified to a Category 3 hurricane before making landfall in the Bahamas. Irene weakened to a Category 1 hurricane before making landfall in North Carolina on August 27 and weakened to a tropical storm while making landfall in New York and New Jersey on August 8. Irene continued to plow north as an extratropical cyclone, moving across Vermont and New Hampshire and into Quebec province on August 28 and 29.

About Hurricanes in the Atlantic

Hurricanes, the name for tropical cyclones in the Atlantic, are intense storms with high winds, torrential rains, and low pressure. Hurricanes in the Atlantic usually start as thunderstorms and other atmospheric disturbances in the tropical Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Africa and grow into tropical depressions. With high enough winds, a tropical depression becomes a tropical storm. With even stronger winds, the storm becomes a hurricane. Hurricanes rotate around an “eye” (a calm area with light winds and fair weather). When hurricanes come onshore, the heavy rain, flooding, strong winds, and large waves can cause massive damage. In the Atlantic, the hurricane season is from June 1 until November 30 each year.

One reason that hurricanes take paths that curve either into the Gulf of Mexico or up the Atlantic Coast is because of the location of high and low-pressure systems. The winds flowing around highs and lows can steer hurricanes. High-pressure systems are the thickest parts of the atmosphere, while low-pressure systems are the thinnest. The Bermuda High is an area of high pressure that moves east and west in the North Atlantic Ocean. During the Northern Hemisphere summer and fall, it sits over the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean, near Bermuda. Since the hurricanes are steered by the winds around a high, the Bermuda High impacts the track and size of hurricanes. It can make them move up the east coast of the United States.

Why Is Weather in the News?

News media outlets (including newspapers, T.V. news, websites, blogs) carry stories about the weather for several reasons. Of course, weather forecasts for the next several days are a staple in the news (everyone wants to know if they should bring an umbrella!), but when there is a severe weather event, news media outlets carry the story with different sorts of coverage. There are forecast reports, and also stories about how communities are preparing for the event and the devastation that the event caused.

Severe weather events such as hurricanes have paths that are predicted days in advance. The weather event is in the news for days or even weeks. The stories usually have an angle such as (1) reports of storm prediction from meteorologists, (2) reports of community warnings and preparations, (3) reports on the storm during the event, (4) reports of the aftermath – the people affected and their efforts to recover.


  • Strengthen writing skills by having students write a story about Hurricane Irene based on the articles.
  • If a hurricane (or another severe weather event) happens during the school year, have students apply the skills learned through this activity to track the storm and its impacts through news reports.
  • Have students make a GIS Story Map out of their notes from each article to combine the timeline with the geographical context.