Severe Weather

 Having accurate and lucid weather information is essential to the safety, economic viability and comfort of a community. Severe weather, in addition to the immeasurable loss of life, costs billions in loss of personal and business property. The Post's Capital Weather Gang provides weather information through multiple platforms.

From the devastating floods of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, to fires devouring grasslands and lush forests in the West, to record heat in the Northwest and August tornadoes in Oklahoma, to the delightful majesty of a full solar eclipse across America, 2017 showcased nature’s power. Likewise, record heat waves and wildfires scorched Europe in June, drought and typhoons disrupted Asia, and disturbing earthquakes shook Mexico.


U.S. citizens are no strangers to weather extremes. From Hawaii to the Virgin Islands, Alaska to Florida, they experience every year floods and drought, dust storms and blizzards, tornadoes and hurricanes, temperatures in the minus degrees as well as sweltering heat of more than 100 degrees F. As a result, homeowners, renters and businesses seek help and buy insurance — when possible.


Through NOAA’s data-driven mission to advance weather and climate forecasting; the National Weather Service’s public servant role to provide people and groups with weather, water and climate information, forecasts and warnings; and, nearer to home, The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang's conveying daily weather information on multiple platforms, the public is well-informed and forewarned. 


From January into October, 2017, The Washington Post provided coverage — news, editorials, editorial cartoons, columns and feature stories to inform, to initiate dialogue, to give historic perspective and up-to-date aftermath — of one stormy, expensive example after another of severe weather.


October 2017

Go to the Source
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Read the Map
Earth Science, Economics, Geography, U.S. History

A map of the Caribbean islands is provided as well as informational graphics that include maps. Teachers should introduce students to the locations of U.S. territories in the Caribbean Sea — Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They and other islands were targets of hurricanes in 2017; the citizens and visitors on them can attest to the brutal impact these severe storms made.


Also locate Texas and Florida. On what bodies of water are they located? Understanding geography and atmospheric conditions in this region, as well as human decisions, will help students as they read about the hurricanes of 2017. Other maps include the 2017 Atlantic basin wind history, sea surface temperatures and hurricane tracking chart found in Weather Wise. 


Another map-based activity uses data in “U.S. 2017 Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters.” 


Earth Science, Mathematics, Meteorology 

Where is weather information found in the print, online and e-Replica formats of The Post? After brainstorming with students the answer to this question, teachers should take students to the Metro section. Where in this section is THE WEATHER page? Give students “What's THE WEATHER?" These are evergreen activities that can be used any day.

Another WEATHER page activity can be found in "Observe the Details" in Observe Nature in Living Color.


Read the Photograph
Art, Journalism, Media Literacy, Visual Arts

Photographs from a KidsPost photo gallery (“Hurricane Irma takes its toll on Caribbean Islands and United States”) are included in Severe Weather Events. Before sharing the photographs, teachers might ask students to tell what they know about hurricanes. Tell students they will be viewing photographs of Hurricane Irma that formed in the Atlantic Ocean on August 30, 2017.  As a category 5 hurricane it hit Barbuda and then the U.S. Virgin Islands on September 6. Find these islands on the map.


Teachers might list details in each photograph that together tell the story of the storm. After viewing all five photographs, students should brainstorm the needs of those who lived through the hurricane.


These photographs can be supplemented with a photo essay by Post staff photographer Salwan Georges: “On the ground in the devastated island of Barbuda” and Luz Lazo’s “What Florida roads look like after Hurricane Irma.” 


Meet the Capital Weather Gang
Art, Career Education, Earth Science, Geography, Meteorology, Visual Arts

A meteorologist  “is an individual with specialized education who uses scientific principles to explain, understand, observe or forecast the earth’s atmospheric phenomena and/or how the atmosphere affects the earth and life on the planet.” They are distinguished from “weathercasters.” The Capital Weather Gang is The Post’s team of meteorologists and weather experts.


In “Meet the Capital Weather Gang”  editors Jason Samenow and Angela Fritz answer our questions about covering the weather, working as a team and pursuing a career in meteorology. This Q&A could be supplemented with “The best meteorological images of Blizzard of 2016.”


Additional resources include the multiple platforms to get information from the Capital Weather Gang. In our resource guide Weather Wise, two articles by Angela Fritz add to our knowledge of weather.


For another example of the knowledge of Capital Weather Gang members, read “Relive the solar eclipse in this timelapse over Washington, D.C.” by Kevin Ambrose. In addition to his time-lapse video of the solar eclipse, Ambrose shares ten steps he followed to create the video.

Assurance and Insurance
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Know A Word About Clouds
Earth Science, English, Meteorology, Reading

Meteorologists tell us together, water and nuclei form clouds. Water molecules form a bond with nuclei; (minute solid and liquid hydroscopic particles found in abundance in the atmosphere) add the right temperature (cooled below the point of saturation) and height clouds form.


Legends and etymology confirm that humans have long viewed and related to clouds. Give students “Word Study: A Word About Clouds.” This etymology study gives students verbal and visual foundation to identify the Cirro-, Cumulo-, Strato- and Nimbo-form of cloud classification.


Meet Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Earth Science, Geography, Meteorology, U.S. History

Read and discuss “Harvey, Irma, Maria. Why is this hurricane season so bad?” written by Angela Fritz, meteorologist and the Capital Weather Gang deputy editor. Teachers should spend extra time with students on reading the informational graphics. Questions for discussion and reviewing the writer’s craft are provided at the end of the article. In addition, Sea Surface Temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and 2017 North Atlantic Hurricane Tracking Chart provide visual aids to explaining the making and movement of hurricanes.


Teachers could follow up the article with questions. Students will need to show their online research skills to locate answers. Questions could include:

• What are current weather conditions in Puerto Rico?
• Where is flooding taking place in the U.S.?
• What are current sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean?
• How are winds currently moving across the globe?


Know Snow
Earth Science, Geography, Journalism, Mathematics

Snow days are anticipated as the weather gets colder. Meteorologists in the D.C. area are as anxious about the forecast as students and parents. Read “The snow ‘splainer: Why it can be tough to know when it will snow in Washington.” Angela Fritz concisely explains in word and maps why it is so difficult to predict snowfall in the Mid-Atlantic region.


Write a Weather Report
Earth Science, Journalism, Media Literacy, Photography

Jason Samenow, The Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang chief meteorologist, provides three scripts from his WAMU Monday weather reports. These are found in "The Radio Weather Report." The October 5, 2017, report is annotated for teachers to review the content and organization of text written for the ear. Teachers might have students read this report aloud, once by putting emphasis on the yellow-highlighted phrases. Another student could emphasize the underscored words that indicate the movement of time in the forecast.


Students could annotate the Winter and Summer scripts in groups for kinds of weather information, indication of time, specific temperatures. How does the report help listeners to make decisions.


In writing their own weather reports, ask students to consider:

• What information do their listeners (faculty, staff and students) need?

• Which clubs, teams and school organizations are holding outdoor events this day and in the next two days? How might weather affect them?

• Do you want to add sound effects (rain hitting windshields, school bus horns, snow shovels across the sidewalk, boom of thunder) or would they be distracting?
• Do you have a sister school, exchange students or other reason to give weather conditions beyond your school community?


Earn a Weather Merit Badge?
Career Education, Character Education, Earth Science, Meteorology

Boy Scouts may earn a Weather Merit Badge. Teachers might review the requirements for this badge. Select three or more of the requirements and post them for students as options for a group project.

Weather Merit Badge Workbook is available online. Review to see if some pages may be helpful to your instruction. 

As an option, teachers might also review the Girl Scouts 2017 Outdoor Challenge #4

Students who are involved in Boy Scout, Girl Scout and 4-H programs may share examples of how weather is part of their experience whether in earning badges, camping or caring for plant and animal projects.



Read About Weather

Read Editorial Cartoons
Art, Career Education, Earth Science, English, Media Literacy, Reading

Tom Toles, The Washington Post’s editorial cartoonist, provides visual commentary on current events, issues and people. He often uses literary, historic and social allusions. Teachers may discuss the role of the oped pages and the editorial cartoonist, in particular, in newspapers. Distinguish news and feature content from opinion.

Give students "Tom Toles | Whether Weather Reveals," four editorial cartoons. Ask students what they understand as they review each cartoon: What is happening? What ideas does Toles present? For more in-depth discussion, give students "Tom Toles | Whether Weather Reveals, Read the Editorial Cartoons," questions for closer reading of each cartoon.


Consider Nature’s Power and Man’s Control
Earth Science, English, Geography, Journalism, Meteorology

David Von Drehle is a Washington Post columnist who has written about and commented on both manmade and natural disasters. In his September 10, 2017, column, "Irma reminds us of all we don't know about the natural world," he addresses the natural disasters of 2017 and advances that have been made in our understanding of nature — and man’s relation to nature. Read and discuss “Irma reminds us of all we don’t know about the natural world.”

Discussion questions and guidance for closer reading are provided in "Knowing the Natural World."


Leave or Rebuild?
Economics, Government, Mathematics, Meteorology

“Barbuda is a wasteland. Dominica is devastated. Puerto Rico has no power. Hurricanes have come and gone, but the 2017 season has seen a new category of psychic storm.” Teachers may begin by asking students to find these three islands on a map. What do they know about them? About their inhabitants, economy, and culture? About their past and current history with hurricanes?


In “Should they go back?” Post reporters Anthony Faiola, Samantha Schmidt and Marc Fisher give examples of destruction and devastation, introduce ideas of renewal, and pose questions about who and how may be involved in revival and rebuilding on these islands. Use the three excerpts from the longer article as the basis for a case study. Students may be asked to play different roles and explain why they would leave or stay on a particular island. Those who choose to leave would explain where they would move and why. Those who stay could be asked to propose recovery plans and approaches. Where would they seek financing?


For teachers with less time to spend on this issue, three excerpts from the longer article “Should they go back?” are provided in the handout of the same name. Discuss the excerpts with students. What do they think would be the best next steps for each island?


For all of these suggestions, teachers may need to give students a short history of each island for perspective.


Explore the Financial Impact of Natural Disasters
Business, Economics, Geography, Journalism, Mathematics, U.S. Government

What natural disaster causes the most expensive damage? Review “U.S. 2017 Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters” and list the types of natural disasters that caused a heavy price tag. Students are asked to update the data from July 1, 2017, to end of year.


To understand what these figures mean to individuals and communities, read the following Post articles. What decisions must they make?

• “Massive wildfires turned prairies to ash, leading Montana’s cowboys to weigh federal help

• “As flooded Houston neighborhoods dry out, residents wonder: Are they worth the risk?

• “The flood hit neighborhoods wealthy and poor. The toll is Texas is difficult to calculate.”

• “Getting relief supplies to Puerto Rico ports is only half the problem

• “Should they go back?

• “Doing business after the storm: ‘No fuel, no cash … NO FOOD’”


Study What Insurance and Assistance Is Available
Business, Economics, Geography, Journalism, Mathematics, U.S. Government

When severe weather strikes, victims must face clean-up, rebuilding, household purchases and everyday needs. Some will have lost their income or have no access to basic necessities. Who helps these individuals? Where do homeowners, renters and business owners turn? Do federal, state and/or local agencies provide assistance — or is it up to each individual to provide for himself?


Who Will Pay What Where and When Natural Disaster Strikes?” lists the questions to be answered about assistance and insurance. Teachers may use this activity sheet as a case study with students taking the roles of homeowners, renters, business owners, government agencies or insurance companies. All stakeholders could begin research by reading “Want to be mad about government insurance? Be mad about the program that will be critical after Harvey?”


To more directly focus on information for homeowners, renters, business owners and the general public view the FEMA Region IV Coastal Analysis and Mapping.  See the box to the left for specific interest groups.


Floods, among the most destructive natural disasters, cause death and destruction. Both FEMA and USGS provide flood information. Students may be directed to go to these government agency websites to explore the kind of information that is available. In addition to home and car insurance that students’ parents may hold, include the National Flood Insurance Program in the activity. 

Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 



Winter storm that produces, for at least three hours, sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 mph or greater and considerable falling and/or blowing snow reducing visibility to less than ¼ mile (o.4 kilometer) 

The weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period; includes temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation and winds; averaged over a series of years


Cloud A visible aggregate of minute water droplets or ice particles in the atmosphere above the Earth's surface
Cryology The science of the physical aspects of snow, ice, hail, and sleet and other forms of water produced by temperatures below Zero degrees Celsius.
Cyclogenesis Development and strengthening of tropical cyclones (low pressure areas)

An area of low atmospheric pressure that has a closed circulation. Cyclones (or more commonly called "low pressure areas") rotate counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. They usually bring about clouds and precipitation.



An extended period of unusually dry weather with no rain or other precipitation. A cracked, parched landscape is often an effect of drought. Help monitor drought by reporting observations.

Flood Rain and/or snowmelt accumulates faster than soil can absorb it or rivers can carry it away; typically occurs during prolonged rain falls over several days, intense rail falls over a short period of time, when a dam or levee fails or when ice or debris jam causes a river or stream to overflow onto the surrounding area. Approximately 75% of all Presidential disaster declarations are associated with flooding.
Hurricane Among nature’s most powerful and destructive phenomena, hurricanes sustain a maximum surface wind of 74 mph or 119 km/hr. or more. “Hurricane” is used for Northern Hemisphere tropical cyclones east of the International Dateline to the Greenwich Meridian. See. Typhoon.

Learn more about hurricane safety tips and resources.

Meteorology The study of the atmosphere, atmospheric phenomena and atmospheric effects on weather. The atmosphere is the gaseous layer of the physical environment that surrounds a planet.
Precipitation Rain, snow, sleet and hail are forms of precipitation that come from clouds.
Radiosonde An instrument that collects atmospheric temperature, pressure, humidity and wind data at different altitudes; flight may last for more than two hours   
Rain Liquid precipitation; water falling from the sky. Raindrops fall to Earth when clouds become saturated or filled with water droplets.
Skew-T Log-P Diagrams

Diagram plotting the radiosonde observations from which to derive the meteorological condition of the upper air; composed on six basic set of fixed lines: temperature, pressure, dry adiabats, moist (or saturated) adiabats, mixing ratio and wind staff

Sleet Precipitation consisting of small ice pellets formed by the freezing of raindrops or of melted snowflakes; ice pellets
Snow  Precipitation of snow crystals, mostly branched in the form of six-pointed stars. The amount of snow that falls is highly dependent upon temperature.
Thunderstorm A local storm produced by cumulonimbus clouds. It is always accompanied by lightening and thunder.

A violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground and extending from the base of a thunderstorm. It nearly always starts as a funnel cloud and may be accompanied by a loud roaring noise.


Tsunami Series of traveling ocean waves of extremely long length generated by disturbances associated primarily with earthquakes occurring below or near the ocean floor

A tropical cyclone of hurricane strength in the Western Pacific Ocean


Day-to-day temperature and precipitation; state of the atmosphere with respect to wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure.

  Source: National Weather Service, NOAA, National Geographic Encyclopedia, National Hurricane Center Glossary


Knowing the Natural World. 1. Von Drehle establishes the deadliest natural disaster. As readers read this, they are very aware of the damage that hurricanes can do. In his second paragraph, he states “a storm of similar intensity” was experienced in Cuba and Florida. He now is ready to set up a comparison-contrast (a rhetorical device). 2. These include radar, satellites, weather planes and forecasting supercomputers. The public, especially those in the hurricanes projected path can prepare for it. 3. Metaphors include: “a slow-motion bowling ball,” “hole in their knowledge,” “paint a target,” and “deltas of change.” Responses will vary. 4. Meteorologists could read air currents and eventual northern path; could not know exactly where. 5. Something similar to this: Although humans know more about global warming, even scientists could not claim knowledge of the precise impact on incremental changes in greenhouses gases. This leads to arguments and mistrust. This is not much different than the grumbling of the man presented in the second paragraph. 6. Early in the work he uses a simile: “like vitals in an intensive care unit.” Later he returns to the medical image and reference in paragraphs eight and nine. 7. a. Literary allusions are to Genesis story of Adam and Even and to John Milton’s account; b. They tie in to the concept of the power of knowledge. 8. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, earthquakes in Mexico — all natural disasters. 9. In spite of advances in science, we do not have full knowledge. And with our knowledge we have limited (paltry) control. 10. Answers will vary.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

Earth and Space Sciences. Ask questions to obtain information about the purpose of weather forecasting to prepare for, and respond to, severe weather. Earth and Human Activity. K-ESS3-2


Earth and Space Sciences. Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard. [Designs could include barriers to prevent flooding, wind resistant roofs and lightening rods.] Earth and Human Activity. 3-ESS3-1


Earth and Space Sciences. 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. Earth and Human Activity. HS-ESSE-1



The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Earth/Space Science. Cite evidence to explain the relationship between the hydrosphere and atmosphere

c. Identify and describe how the temperature and precipitation in a geographic area are affected by surface features and changes in atmospheric and ocean content.

• Relative location of mountains

• Volcanic eruptions

• Proximity (closeness) to large bodies of water

• Heat energy of ocean currents Topic E. Indicator 1. Objective C.


Earth/Space Science. Identify and describe the atmospheric and hydrospheric conditions related to weather systems.

a. Identity and describe weather patterns associated with high and low pressure systems and the four frontal systems using appropriate data displays including weather maps.

b. Identify and describe the atmospheric and hydrospheric conditions associated with the formation and development of hurricanes, tornadoes and thunderstorms.

c. Identify and describe how various tools are used to collect weather data and forecast weather conditions.
• Barometer
• Thermometer
• Anemometer
• Psychrometer Topic E. Indicator 3. Objectives A-C.


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 


Earth Science. The student will investigate and understand that energy transfer between the sun and Earth and its atmosphere drives weather and climate on Earth. Key concepts include

a. observation and collection of weather data;

b. prediction of weather patterns;

c. severe weather occurrences, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and major storms; and

d. weather phenomena and the factors that affect climate including radiation, conduction and convection. ES.12


Earth Science. The student will demonstrate an understanding of the nature of science and scientific reasoning and logic. Key concepts include

a. science explains and predicts the interactions and dynamics of complex Earth systems;

b. evidence is required to evaluate hypotheses and explanations;

c. observation and logic are essential for reaching a conclusion; and

d. evidence is evaluated for scientific theories. ES.2


Science Enhanced Scope and Sequence | Interrelationships in Earth/Space Systems. The student will investigate and understand basic types, changes and patterns of weather. Key concepts include

a. identification of common storms and other weather phenomena.

b. the uses and importance of measuring, recording, and interpreting weather data;

c. the uses and importance of tracking weather data over time. Weather 2.6

Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts >> Science & Technical Subjects. Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 texts and topics. Key Ideas and Details. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY. RST.9-10.4


English Language Arts >> Science & Technical Subjects. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms. Key Ideas and Details. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.2


English Language Arts >> Science & Technical Subjects. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a questions or solve a problem. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.7


Mathematics. Compose functions. For example, if T(y) is the temperature in the atmosphere as a function of height, and h(t) is the height of a weather balloon as a function of time, then T(h(t)) is the temperature at the location of the weather balloon as a function of time. Functions .. Building Functions >> Build a function that models a relationship between two quantities. >>1 >> c


Common Core standards may be found at