National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Assignment: Become a Young Meteorologist

(Instructions for Activity Leader)

In partnership with NOAA’s National Weather Service, Plan!t Now created a game that teaches about severe weather preparedness. This fun, educational game is highly interactive, and follows the National Weather Service mascot, Owlie Skywarn, through a series of adventures that teach students about safety tips for facing several types of hazardous weather.

The game can be accessed at:

The Young Meteorologist Program features 5 different modules on weather hazards that are experienced throughout the U.S., along with safety tips and information for each. Even if you don’t experience a particular hazard in your area of the country, it is recommended students complete the entire game. You never know when a student might go on a trip to an area of the country that does experience that type of weather and having learned about both the hazard and the safety measures to take could save lives.

After completing all of the modules, students will be able to print their own Young Meteorologist Certificate.

To get credit for completing this assignment, students must do the following:

  1. Play each module of the game.
  2. Print out their Young Meteorologist certificate at the end of the game and show it to the instructor. (An alternative to printing is to have them do a screen capture of the certificate and e-mail it to you.)
  3. Answer the questions at the bottom of the worksheet.  NOTE:  It is recommended the Instructor chose a few questions from the list and give a fun quiz prior to the game experience, recording the results. Following the learning experience, give the same set of questions. This will enable the instructor to target what works for different groups and what learning option (see below) will work best for their students.
Three options for how to complete the game:
  1. Instructor Lead - Play the game as a group.
  2. Individually - Students complete the game on their own.
  3. Service Learning - Older students work with younger students to complete the game.
    Note: if you have siblings in your group, and you are requiring students to individually complete the game, each sibling should show you a copy of his or her Young Meteorologist certificate.

It takes an average of 1 hour to complete the game if you play straight through. If you stop for questions/discussion after each module, it can take up to 2 hours to complete the game. Some questions and facts for discussion are provided below for each module. It is up to the instructor as to whether these are included in the way this portion of the activity is taught.

Optional Discussion Points for each module:


  • When are hurricanes and tropical storms most likely to happen?
    • Hurricane season in the Atlantic runs from June 1-November 30th while hurricane season in the Pacific runs from May 15th November 30th.
      • The Pacific season starts earlier because they typically see their first storm by the end of May, while storms do not usually form in the Atlantic until June.
      • It’s important to note that tropical systems can form at any time of the year, the “season” just notes the most likely time that storms form.
  • What is typically the most dangerous hazard that is seen along with a hurricane or tropical storm? (i.e. wind, flooding, rain, tornadoes, lightning, etc.)
    • Water is the most deadly/damaging hazard from a tropical system.
      • Storm surge along the coast causes billions of dollars of damage.
      • Heavy rains also cause flooding well inland from the coast.
      • The wind associated with a hurricane or tropical storm tends to be what the news media focuses on but it is not what actually causes the most damage or the greatest number of deaths.
  • Who will tell you when to evacuate if a dangerous storm is coming?
    • It is the local emergency managers and state officials who determine when people living along the coasts need to evacuate.
      • The National Weather Service makes the forecasts for tropical systems and issues watches and warnings, but they do not make decisions about when to evacuate.


  • Why is a car a safe place to take cover?
    • A car, with the windows rolled up, forms a cage around you, directing the lightning to the ground.
      • A car with the windows open is NOT a safe shelter from lightning. You must be enclosed in it.
      • The rubber tires do NOT play a role in keeping you safe.
      • When you are in the car, it is important to keep your hands off the metal frame of the vehicle or any instruments (e.g. the radio).
      • The outer metal frame of a hard-topped metal vehicles does provide protection to those inside a vehicle with the windows closed.
  • Is a picnic pavilion with open sides or screened walls a safe place to take shelter?
    • No. You need to be inside a fully enclosed building with electricity and/or plumbing to be safe.
  • How far away from a storm can lightning strike?
    • Lightning can strike up to 10 miles from the actual storm. This is why it’s important to go inside when you first hear thunder, even if it doesn’t look like the storm is that close.
      • Remember - When Thunder Roars Go Indoors!
  • Can a person who is struck by lightning survive?
    • Yes! However, medical attention may be needed immediately. Call for medical help. Victims do not carry an electrical charge so it is safe to touch them without risk of being shocked. In many cases, the victim’s heart or breathing may have stopped. CPR or an AED may be needed to revive them. Continue to monitor the victim until medical help arrives. If possible, move the victim to a safer place away from the threat of another lightning strike.
  • When and where can flooding occur in the U.S.?
    • Flooding can occur anywhere in the U.S. at any time of year!
  • Just how much water does it take...
    • knock down and carry away an adult?
      • 6 inches of moving water
    • float an average sized car?
      • 12 inches of water - if the water is moving it will be carried away.
    • float a large semi-truck?
      • 18 inches of water can - if the water is moving it will be carried away.
  • Why is it unsafe to drive through a flooded roadway even when it’s just a few inches of water?
    • You can’t actually see what is under the water. In many cases, roadways are washed out. The water may look like it’s only a few inches deep, but there could be a hole in the roadway that a car could fall into.
    • There may also be debris under the water. Broken glass, other sharp objects, rocks,  etc.
    • The water is coming from somewhere...what if a storm upstream caused a sudden influx of water as you were driving across the flooded road? Your car might be swept away or you could be trapped inside your car in the middle of a raging river.
  • Is it safe to walk or play in flood waters that are standing still?
    • Drainage pipes and storm drains may be covered up by the water.  If you get too close to one, you could actually get pulled into one of these in a flood situation as water is sucked into the sewers.  
    • Flood waters pick up all manner of unseen dangers: chemicals from cars, trash, animal feces, etc. may be in the water. It can also hide items such as medical syringes, broken glass, and other dangerous objects that could seriously injure you or make you sick if stepped on.
  • How do tornadoes form?
    • Tornadoes come from severe thunderstorms that are rotating.
      • The rotation comes from “wind shear”, i.e. wind turning at different speeds and in different directions as you rise from the surface of the earth upward into the atmosphere.
      • When a thunderstorm moves into an area of strong wind shear, it may begin to rotate faster.
        • As it rotates more quickly, a funnel may begin to form on the bottom of the storm.
          • It is not considered a tornado until it is touching the ground. Before that, it is just a “funnel cloud”.
  • Where do you go if there is a tornado while you’re at school?
    • Answer may vary based on the school’s construction and policy. Just know that the location should be away from windows and that students should never be asked to gather in large, open air rooms such as auditoriums, gymnasiums or cafeterias.
  • Where do you go if there is a tornado while you’re at home?
    • Again, answers may vary. The best options are a basement or storm cellar. If neither is available it should be a windowless room, such as a bathroom, closet, interior hallway or under the stairs. You want to put as many walls between you and the outside of the house as possible.  
  • What do you do if you’re not at home or at school when there is a tornado?
    • If you’re in a car you or the driver should drive to a nearby sturdy building and take shelter.
    • If you’re outside you should seek shelter in a nearby sturdy building.
Winter Storm:
  • There are many ways for winter storms to form but there are 3 key ingredients the atmosphere needs for a winter storm to form. What are they?
    • Cold Air: For snow and ice to form, the temperature must be below freezing in the clouds and near the ground.
    • Moisture: Water evaporating from bodies of water, such as a large lake or the ocean, is an excellent source of moisture.
    • Lift: Lift causes moisture to rise and form clouds and precipitation. An example of lift is warm air colliding with cold air and being forced to rise. Another example of lift is air flowing up the side of a mountain side.
  • What hazards do winter storms produce?
    • Heavy snow
    • High winds (Wind Chill)
    • Ice accumulation (Freezing rain and Sleet)
    • Extreme cold
  • What is the difference between sleet and freezing rain?
    • Sleet: Snow/ice falls from the clouds but melts in a warm layer of air on its way down to the ground. However, it falls through another cold pocket of air near the ground and refreezes into sleet before it hits the surface.
    • Freezing Rain: Precipitation falls as rain through the lower part of atmosphere and freezes on contact when it hits surfaces on the earth that are 32 degrees or colder, forming a sheet of ice.
  • What makes a winter storm a Blizzard?
    • You have to have all 3 of these conditions for a winter storm to be a blizzard:
    1. Winds continuously blowing at 35 mph or more.
    2. Blowing snow reducing visibility to less than ¼ mile.
    3. Must last for 3 hours or more.