Weather Forecasting & Satellites Teaching Box

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Satellite image of west coast of U.S. showing stormy weather

This Teaching Box combines activities that build middle school student understanding of how satellites help make weather forecasts more accurate.

UCAR Center for Science Education presents the Satellites and Weather Teaching Box! We have collected high quality resources from our program and from other science education programs, sequenced them to help build student understanding, and aligned the collection with Next Generation Science Standards. Resources have been reviewed by our team of educators.

  • Topic: Satellites and Weather
  • Level: Middle school

How Satellites Help Improve Weather Forecasting  

Goal: Students will learn that data about the atmosphere from satellites helps improve weather monitoring and forecasting.

Activity:  This Teaching Box will help your students understand how satellites help us monitor and forecast weather through a combination of hands on activities, and analysis of real satellite data.

Next Generation Science Standards:

  • NGSS Science and Engineering Practices: Analyzing and Interpreting Data; Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
  • NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea: MS- ESS2.D Weather and Climate
  • NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: Cause and Effect, Stability and Change

Engage students with different types of weather data that satellites can provide.

  • Have students watch the short NASA video: Satellite Animation Sees Category 4 Hurricane Irma Approach South Florida. Prevent students from seeing the title of the video and ask them whether they think the hurricane will hit south Florida. Tell students that before satellites were monitoring the weather, it was much more difficult to track hurricanes.
  • Have students use the Student Activity Sheet: What types of weather data do satellites collect? to compare two different types of information about the atmosphere from satellites (a GOES-16 map showing cloud cover and a COSMIC vertical profile of the atmosphere at one location).  Ask students which type of data could be helpful for answering a question about where clouds, and possibly storms, are located (the GOES-16 image). Ask which type of data could be helpful for answering a question about the temperature of the atmosphere 5 km above the ground (the COSMIC profile). Students should recognize that satellites and sensors are used to collect different types of data about the atmosphere.
  • If time allows, introduce students to the range of weather satellites and instruments and have advanced learners explore the COMET Basic Satellite Imagery Interpretation module. (Note: access to COMET modules requires a free user account.)

Explore how weather data from satellites can inform weather monitoring and forecasting.

  • Satellite Storm Search: In this activity, students create and investigate a physical model to explore how the resolution of satellite data impacts weather monitoring and forecasting. They are given a scenario (that severe storms have been reported around the Hawaiian Islands) and a task (to identify the locations of the storms so that warnings can be issued). Once students learn in the Engage that satellites collect various types of weather data, this activity helps them understand that having a lot of data from many locations helps scientists understand and track weather events around the world. Over the ocean, weather data from satellites are particularly helpful since there are not many other ways to collect weather data over the ocean.

Explain how data about the atmosphere from COSMIC satellites is helpful for understanding weather and the atmosphere.

Elaborate with a data analysis activity that allows students to use satellite data to predict a weather event.

  • Hunting for the Pineapple Express: In this activity, students interpret COSMIC data to find the location of an atmospheric river over the Pacific and predict where along the West Coast of North America the moisture is likely to produce heavy precipitation in the days ahead.

Evaluate student understanding of how satellite data helps us understand weather.

  • Have students find videos of meteorologists sharing weather forecasts and select one to present to their classmates without volume. Students should describe the weather phenomena in the video and types of satellite observations that were included in the forecast video. See the Evaluate Rubric for more detail.