Analyzing Hurricanes Using Web and Desktop GIS


Activity Source: 

ESRI, 2007. Adapted with permission.


Hurricanes are among the most common and most destructive types of natural hazards on Earth. Because they occur across space and time, hurricanes can be better understood using maps, particularly digital maps within a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) environment. GIS allows you to use maps as analytical tools—not maps that someone else has made—but using your own maps to make decisions.


  • A computer with Internet access


1. The National Atlas of the United States is a web mapping service where you can make maps from A to Z—Agriculture to Zebra Mussels. Access and select Map Maker to make a map of hurricanes.

2. After selecting Map Maker, select Climate, then Tropical Cyclones, then Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, then 2000s. Finally, “Redraw Map.”

3. Discuss: Why do hurricanes move in the direction that they do? Which hurricanes don’t fit the pattern?

4. Map hurricanes from some different decades. Discuss: Are hurricanes becoming more frequent with each passing decade? How does the wind
speed change as each hurricane moves across the ocean and across land?

5. For the next part of this activity, download ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), from

6. Data from National Atlas are bundled with a more detailed version of this North Atlantic hurricane activity, freely available on the ESRI ArcLessons
library at Search on “Hurricanes” or the ID of 299.

7. After accessing AEJEE, select the Add Data button to add the hurricanes, boundaries, and cities map layers. Using Tools, then Query Builder, select Hurricane Andrew (Name=’Andrew’). Describe the path of Hurricane Andrew. How long was its path, and how many days did this hurricane last?

8. Study the Wind_ MPH and Pressure fields. Discuss: What is the relationship between wind speed and pressure? Why? What was the wind
speed and pressure when Andrew became a hurricane?