How to Use A Hurricane Tracking Chart

Instructions for Tracking Tropical Cyclones

Tropical cyclone tracks of the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season.
Tropical cyclone tracks of the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

OAA National Hurricane Center

 

A popular activity during hurricane season is to track the path and progress of tropical storms and hurricanes. Known as hurricane tracking, it's a creative way to teach hurricane awareness, learn about storm intensities, and to create and keep your own hurricane records from season to season.

Materials Needed:

  • Access to the latest tropical storm and hurricane forecasts
  • A hurricane tracking map/chart
  • A pencil
  • An eraser
  • Colored pencils (blue, light blue, green, yellow, red, pink, magenta, purple, white)
  • A ruler (not required)

Getting Started:

  1. Monitor the National Hurricane Center for current tropical cyclone activity. Once an invest develops into a tropical depression, subtropical depression, or stronger, it's time to start tracking it.
  2. Plot the storm's first position.
    To do this, find its geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude). (The positive (+) number, or the one followed by the letter "N," is latitude; the negative (-) number, or the one followed by the letter "W," is longitude.) Once you have the coordinates, move your pencil along the right edge of the chart to locate the latitude. Using a ruler to guide your hand in a straight line, move your pencil across horizontally from this point until you find the longitude. Draw a very small circle at the point where the latitude and longitude meet.
  3. Label the storm by either writing its name next to the first plot point, or drawing a small box and writing the storm number inside.
  4. Continue to track the storm by plotting its position twice daily, at 12 UTC and 00 UTC. Dots representing the 00 UTC position should be filled in. Dots representing the 12 UTC position should be left unfilled.
  5. Label each 12 UTC plot point with the calendar day (i.e., 7 for the 7th).
  6. Use the Hurricane Tracking Chart key (at the bottom of the page) and your colored pencils to "connect the dots" with the appropriate colors and/or patterns.
  7. When the storm dissipates, write its name or storm number (like in step #3 above) next to its final plot point.
  8. (Optional) You may also want to label the storm's minimum pressure. (This tells where the storm was at its strongest.) Find the minimum pressure value and the date and time it occurred. Write this value next to the corresponding section of the storm track, then draw an arrow between them.
    Follow steps 1-8 for all storms forming during the season. If you miss a storm, visit one of these sites for past hurricane data:

National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Advisory Archive
An archive of advisories and storm summary information.

(Click on the storm name, then choose the 00 and 12 UTC public advisories. Storm location and wind speed/intensity will be listed under the summary section at top of the page.)

Unisys Weather Tropical Advisory Archive 404
An archive of tropical cyclone products, advisories, and bulletins from season years 2005-present. (Scroll through the index to choose the desired date and time. Click on the corresponding file link.)

Need an Example?

To see a finished map with storms already plotted, check out the NHC's Past Track Seasonal Maps.

Hurricane Tracking Chart Key

Line Color Storm Type Pressure (mb) Wind (mph) Wind (knots)
Blue Subtropical Depression -- 38 or less 33 or less
Light Blue Subtropical Storm -- 39-73 34-63
Green Tropical Depression (TD) -- 38 or less 33 or less
Yellow Tropical Storm (TS) 980 + 39-73 34-63
Red Hurricane (Cat 1) 980 or less 74-95 64-82
Pink Hurricane (Cat 2) 965-980 96-110 83-95
Magenta Major Hurricane (Cat 3) 945-965 111-129 96-112
Purple Major Hurricane (Cat 4) 920-945 130-156 113-136
White Major Hurricane (Cat 5) 920 or less 157 + 137 +
Green dashed (- - -) Wave/Low/Disturbance -- -- --
Black hatched (+++) Extratropical Cyclone -- -- --