Storms, Tornados, Hurricanes STEM


Looking to teach your students about the difference between storms, hurricanes, and tornados? This lesson plan is perfect for you! Students will compare and contrast storms, tornados, and hurricanes. They will learn about the causes of storms, tornados, and hurricanes. They will also identify the most likely places tornados and hurricanes begin.

Students will learn about the similarities and differences in storms, tornados, and hurricanes in this lesson. In addition, students will be able to classify each weather condition by analyzing its unique characteristics. The activities can easily be paired with math lessons on mean, median, mode, range, and graphing.

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What our Storms, Tornados, Hurricanes STEM lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Storms, Tornados, Hurricanes STEM teaches students about the traits of these three types of natural disasters. Students will compare and contrast each type of storm and learn about what causes them. They will also discover where in the world such events are likely to occur. This lesson is for students in 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. This lesson requires quite a few supplies for both the activity and practice worksheets. For the activity, you need cups with lids that have a hole for a straw, straws, masking tape, permanent markers, scissors, card stock, pins, and water. The practice requires some of the same materials as well as Dixie cups, a single hole puncher, and a timer.

Options for Lesson

There are several suggestions in the “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page for additional activities or ideas. One idea is to print off maps of the ocean and mark where there are hurricanes happening. Another option is to connect this lesson with a math lesson on mean, median, mode, and range. One more idea is to have students use the anemometer each day, keep track of the number of rotations, and then graph the data they collected.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page provides an extra paragraph of information to help guide the lesson and remind you what to focus on. The blank lines on this page are available for you to write out thoughts and ideas you have as you prepare the lesson.


Thunderstorms and Tornados

The Storms, Tornados, Hurricanes STEM lesson plan contains three pages of content. Students will first learn that there are different types of storms that occur all around the world. However, the three main types of storms are thunderstorms, tornados, and hurricanes. The most common of these is the thunderstorm.

Most people have been in a thunderstorm at some point in their life. A thunderstorm can produce rain, thunder, lightning, sleet, hail, or even snow. They usually have high winds and heavy rain. But where do they come from? Thunderstorms form in cumulonimbus clouds called thunderheads. These clouds contain lightning, which heats the air and produces a loud boom—thunder. Thunderstorms can occur anywhere on the planet.

Sometimes a spring or summer thunderstorm will create a tornado. A tornado is a powerful spinning cone of wind. They move along the ground in a narrow but very destructive path. Sometimes tornados will form over the water. When this happens, we call it a waterspout. How do tornadoes form? Students will discover that when the surface of the earth is warm, warm air begins to rise. Warm air is powerful, and it rushes into the cooler air at high speeds.

Usually, the air comes from many different directions, but sometimes the air starts to move all in the same direction. When this happens, a funnel will form. Most of the time, the funnel will touch the ground, but sometimes it does not. Winds can reach 300 miles per hour in the center of a tornado. Most tornados in the United States take place in Tornado Alley in the Midwest.


Finally, students will discuss hurricanes. Hurricanes are large, swirling storms that form over warm tropical oceans near the equator. They have very low pressure at the center, but that’s just the center. Hurricanes are powerful and can cause lots of damage to homes and businesses because they cause high waves and flooding along coastal cities. The center of the hurricane is called the “eye,” and it is usually very calm. The eye ranges from 2 to 200 miles in diameter!

How do hurricanes form? Hurricanes move across the ocean as a clump of thunderstorms with high winds that rotate clockwise above the equator and counterclockwise below the equator. As the wind pulls up more water and begins spinning together, the hurricane gets stronger and stronger. Once they hit land, hurricanes begin to lose some of their power.

Tornados most often form over land though sometimes funnel clouds called water spouts do form over large bodies of water. When a low-pressure front collides with a high-pressure front, storms occur. Tornados form when cold and warm air meet, resulting in unpredictable spinning air currents. Unlike hurricanes, which can last for several days, a tornado will only be on the ground for an average of fewer than 10 minutes.

How Scientists Measure Storms

Most storms like thunderstorms or snowstorms can be monitored by
satellites in space and radar on the ground. It might surprise students to learn that when scientists want to know how large and powerful a hurricane is, they fly airplanes into the eye of the storm! The eye of the storm of hurricanes is the area of calm, but the outside of the hurricane has the spinning winds. Scientists use special instruments to measure how large and how fast the winds are churning from the inside.

Tornados happen really fast. So, when alerted by weather reports that conditions are right for a tornado, scientists will track the storm on radar. Storm chasers are scientists who follow fast-moving hurricanes
and tornados in specially built vehicles to measure the strength and direction of the tornado. Most people have fewer than 13 minutes of warning before a tornado hits the ground. Compare that with hurricanes where people on the coast are alerted many days before a hurricane actually is in danger of hitting land on the coast.

Fujita Scale

The last content page provides a table that shows the Fujita Scale. This scale allows scientists to classify major storms according to their power and strength. It shows the wind speed estimates and the percentage of frequency. The table also provides a short explanation to describe the potential damage that each level of storm (from F0 to F5) can cause.

F0 is the lowest level on the scale and represents storms that cause light damage. Wind speeds average between 40 and 72 miles an hour. These storms are also the most frequent types of storms, with a 44.14% frequency. They can blow down small trees and uproot bushes. They may also rip off the shingles from roofs or blow away things like lawn chairs, plastic tables, and mattresses.

F1 storms cause moderate damage, F2 storms cause significant damage, and F3 storms cause severe damage. A storm that registers as an F3-level storm has wind speeds between 158 and 206 miles an hour. They only happen about 4.35% of the time. However, they can blow away entire outside walls, the second floors of two-story homes, and large vehicles like tractors and buses.

An F4 storm is the second-most powerful storm that causes devastating damage. The worst storms, however, are at the F5 level, with wind speeds between 261 and 318 miles an hour. Only 0.1% of storms will clock in as an F5, but they are incredibly damaging. They are so strong that they can rip grass out of the ground and cause major structural damage to skyscrapers.


The Storms, Tornados, Hurricanes STEM lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each one will reinforce students’ comprehension of lesson material in different ways and help them demonstrate when they learned. Use the guidelines on the classroom procedure page to determine when to distribute each worksheet to the class.


A weathervane signifies the direction of the wind. For the activity, students will create one of their own using the supplies you provide. First, they must make the base. One the cup’s lid, they will label the four cardinal directions with a permanent marker. Then they will put the lid on the cup, insert the straw, and place masking tape on top of the straw.

Students will then create the vane by first cutting both a triangle and a trapezoid out of card stock. Next, they will cut slits in the second straw to insert the triangle on one side and the trapezoid on the other. They must find the center of gravity by balancing the straw on their finger. Then they can push a pin through that point and through the tape on the top of the other straw. Finally, they will make sure it spins easily and fill the cup with some water to hold it in place.

At this point, students can go outside or somewhere where air is flowing to test their weathervane. They will observe which direction the wind is coming from and write it down on the space provided on the worksheet.


An anemometer measure how fast the wind is blowing. Students will create one of their own for the practice worksheet. They will start by making the base out of a cup and lid just as they did for the activity. Then they will make the top by punching two holes across from each other in four small paper cups. They should then place an X on one of the cups with a permanent marker.

Next, students will make a plus sign with two straws and poke a pin through the middle of them. They will place a cup on each straw end through the holes they made and ensure the cups all face the same direction. After they fill the base cup with water to keep it stable, they will take their anemometers outside in the wind.

You can set a timer for one minute. Students will count the number of times the cup with the X passes their view within that minute. They will record the number of rotations on the table on the worksheet. Then they will repeat the trial two more times, each for one minute, and record the number of rotations each time.


For the homework assignment, students will track a current storm or hurricane (or one from a previous year) using the chart at the bottom of the page. They will go to the website that the worksheet provides to find a current storm. Then, they will plot the points on the map. In addition, they will write some information about that storm on the blank lines above the map.

Worksheet Answer Keys

There is an answer key for the homework assignment at the end of the lesson plan document. It provides a guide that you could allow students to reference, but it is just a sample response. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits this page. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep this as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade



State Educational Standards


Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.