Forecasting the Weather

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SWBAT use weather data from three consecutive days forecast weather for the fourth day and reflect on the accuracy of their model.

Big Idea

This culminating activity challenges students to use what they have learned about air masses and fronts to forecast the weather.

Getting Started

This two-day lesson serves as the final activity in this unit. If you have not completed all of the previous lessons, it is still possible to present this to your students, however you may wish to guide them through the activity leading up to the final prediction. 

Note that in the NGSS 6-8 Earth Science MS-ESS2-5 standard, weather station diagrams and weather map symbols are outside of the assessment boundary. This lesson does not address wind barbs and flags or cloud cover oktas* nor have I included them in this unit. If you cover weather station models, you could insert that lesson before teaching this final activity. I made the decision to only address the weather symbols that are common to televised weather maps that are broadcast daily. 


I have opted to present this lesson as a partner activity. You have the flexibility of individually assigning to fit you needs 

Materials : 

  • Directions sheet
  • 1 set of weather maps for three consecutive days per pair of students
  • 1 blank map of North America
  • colored pencils (red, blue, purple)
  • highlighter

*In meteorology, an okta is a unit of measurement used to describe the amount of cloud cover at any given location such as a weather station. Sky conditions are estimated in terms of how many eighths of the sky are covered in cloud, ranging from 0 oktas (completely clear sky) through to 8 oktas (completely overcast). - from Wikipedia


10 minutes

I like to begin this lesson by showing a short video clip of a broadcast weather forecast. Head over the Weather Channel, then select the Forecast tab. Choose the national forecast and play this for the class. You can also try any of the major network station websites either in your area or nationally for their videos. 

After showing the video ask the class how what daily information is presented? What units are given? Where do they evidence of fronts, high/low pressure, temperature, precipitation, cloud clover, humidity or wind speeds? 

Much of what they have been studying is captured in a few minutes of video and now it's their turn to try their hand at predicting the weather. 


30 minutes

Give a packet of three weather maps that span three days to each pair of students. For each day there are four maps to study.  One large map that includes fronts, pressure systems and isobars and three small maps showing wind speed, high/low temperature and precipitation.

I have included a set of map for a week in August of 2014, but you may choose to select any week you like. Note: These maps come from the Department of Commerce Daily Weather Map

From here you can select a week of maps going back several years. If there is a significant weather event you'd like to present, say a hurricane, Nor-Easter, etc. simply select the week in question to download. You can opt for Black and White or Color images. 


For each map students will:

 1. On the large map, identify/color the following:

  • warm fronts red.
  • cold fronts blue
  • stationary fronts red/blue alternating
  • occluded fronts purple
  • center of the high pressure systems, color the H blue
  • center of the low pressure systems, color the L red


2. Highlight the following on the large map:

  • The corresponding air pressure next to each High and next to each Low. NOTE: If using the NOAA maps, these numbers will be underlined and in a smaller font next to the center of each pressure system (i.e. 1023 )


3. For the 500-millibar Height Contours map (wind speed)

  • Circle the locations of the highest and lowest wind speed in the United Stated only. Recall from earlier lessons that wind speed is faster where the contour lines are closer together and slower where they are father apart.


4. For the High/Low Temperature Map

  • Circle the highest high temp and lowest high temperature and record their locations on the map. NOTE: On the temperature map there are two values for each location. The top number is the daily high temp and the bottom number is the daily low temp. You can ignore the daily low temp.

68  = daily high - record this number only

35  = (daily low - ignore this value)

5. For the 24-hour Precipitation Map

  • Circle the region that is the driest. These areas will show a single dot on the map.
  • Find and circle the highest rainfall and record its location on the map. Rainfall is measured in inches. A single T indicates a trace of rain.


II. Predict

Once they have analyzed three consecutive days of weather, its time to make predictions for the fourth day. Working with their partner, they are to track the position of the fronts, pressure centers and precipitation then take the blank map of North America and predict the location of the High and Low pressure systems, all weather fronts, high and low temperatures, driest and wettest locations, and areas of highest and lowest wind speed. They will add these to the blank map using the corresponding colors, symbols and units. When finished they show their work with the teacher. 


10 minutes

Once students have made their predictions and checked with you, ask them to reflect on the accuracy of their model. I do not grade my students on the exactness of their forecasts, but rather on the completeness and neatness of the maps and the analysis in their reflection. 

I ask them to write a paragraph that compares their prediction to the actual forecast for day 4. What was similar? What was different? Were your surprised by the outcome? Did it bring up any questions? Talk it over with your partner before drafting the final paragraph.


15 minutes

This lesson will most likely run two class periods. To wrap up this lesson discuss what was challenging about this lesson and connect that to the challenging of forecasting weather. 

What makes it predictable? What makes it hard to predict? How are all the parts tied together (air pressure, temperature, wind, precipitation, humidity, cloud cover). 

Spend the time to hear from the class and help them make sense of any parts of this unit are still unclear. 

Regarding final assessment of this unit, note that I do not include unit quizzes and tests as part of my BetterLesson curriculum, however I do use them in my classroom.