Sunday, February 12, 2012

Science For Six-Year-Olds: Hurricanes

Science For Six-Year-Olds is a recurring segment on Science Decoded for Mrs. Podolak's first grade class at Lincoln-Hubbard elementary school. This year in first grade we've also done an experiment with butter, talked about sugar maple trees, and learned a song about the states of matter
Hello first graders! Mrs. Podolak tells me you are studying weather in science, so I wanted to share with you some information about an extreme weather event, called a hurricane. Who remembers when hurricane Irene hit New Jersey on August 28, 2011? What happened? Did any of you have to leave vacations at the beach? Did the power go out? Did your basement flood? At my house (Mrs. Podolak's house too!) our basement flooded, and we spent a lot of time pumping all the water back out. My flight to Wisconsin to go back to school was cancelled, and I was stuck in New Jersey for a few extra days.
Hurricane Irene over the Bahamas
August 24, 2011 via: Wikimedia Commons.

A hurricane is a big storm that forms in the ocean and brings high winds and a lot of rain to the coast when it makes land. According to the National Hurricane Center, a hurricane needs specific things to happen in order to form including, a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture, and winds. If these conditions all happen at the right time, they can combine to make a hurricane. Hurricanes occur in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico and can move in different directions, heading west toward Texas, or north toward where you are in New Jersey. Many of these storms don't hit land, but some (like Irene) do.

Storms that form over the ocean can vary in strength. A tropical depression is a system of clouds and thunderstorms with maximum winds of 38 miles per hour (mph). Stronger than that is a tropical storm, a system of thunderstorms with maximum winds of 39-73 mph. The strongest storm is a hurricane, an extreme tropical weather system with strong thunderstorms and winds of 74 mph or higher. There are different categories of hurricane with a category one having the lowest winds, and a category five having the highest. Hurricane Irene got up to a category three, but when it hit New Jersey it had lessened to a category one. But, a category one hurricane can still do a lot of damage, especially when rivers get too full, and flood over their banks. Did any of you see the footage of flooding with Hurricane Irene on the news? This is what it looked like:

While hurricanes can do a lot of damage, there are things that you and your family can do to make sure that everyone stays safe. The National Hurricane Center recommends that at the beginning of hurricane season (June 1 - November 30) make sure you have fresh batteries and a supply of food and water for emergencies on hand. You can tune into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's (NOAA) weather radio to check for updates on weather conditions. The most important thing is to listen to local officials, and if you find yourself in an evacuation zone (area that you have to leave) that you follow instructions. Do you remember New Jersey Governor Chris Christie closing the beaches and asking people to evacuate?

During extreme weather conditions like hurricanes you are going to want to make sure you have the right kind of clothing. During a snowstorm like a blizzard, you would want to have warm clothes like sweaters or lined pants, a jacket, snowpants, gloves, a hat, a scarf and boots. What kind of clothes do you think you would want during a hurricane? Remember, hurricanes are wet and windy and generally happen during the summer months.

For more information about what to do during extreme weather conditions, you can check out the National Weather Service. If you have any questions about hurricanes let me know! I hope you all enjoy learning about weather.


  1. Hi Erin, Thanks for the information. Here are some questions we have. Why do hurricanes form a circle? What was the largest hurricane to hit the USA? What would happen if you fell in the eye of a hurricane? Do hurricanes have electricity in them? Thanks for helping us become weather experts. Love, 1P

    1. Hello First Graders! You asked some great questions, here are the answers:
      1. Why do hurricanes form a circle - This happens due to the high winds involved in the formation of a hurricane. The storm moves in a circular motion in response to the temperature, water, and wind involved in a hurricane.
      2. What was the largest hurricane to hit the USA - The hurricane with the highest wind speeds to hit the USA were Hurricane Camille in 1969 (a category 5) and Hurricane Andrew in 1995 (also a category 5). The hurricanes that caused the most damage in USA history are the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 the Okeechobe Hurricane of 1926 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
      3. What would happen if you fell in the eye of a hurricane - In the eye of a hurricane the winds are generally lower and there is less precipitation, so if you fell into the eye there would be less bad weather to deal with. But remember that hurricanes move, so if you stayed still you wouldn't stay in the eye, you would end up back out in the storm.
      4. Do hurricanes have electricity in them -Electricity in the form of lightning rarely occurs in a hurricane. In some of the largest and worst hurricanes lighting has been observed, but in general hurricanes do not have lightning.

    2. Thank you!! Love 1P