Tornado Experiment for Kids

Valorie Delp
tornado

For your future storm chaser, you can create vortices with your very own tornado experiment for kids. What's great is that the tornado maker is so easy, kids can use it without supervision and older kids can even make one of their own.

A Recipe for a Real Tornado

Before you start making the tornado experiment for kids, it's important to what exactly a tornado is. The tornado experiment will simulate a tornado by creating a vortex and thus is a demonstration of how a tornado behaves. In actuality, a very complex set of conditions have to exist together before you can get a real tornado.

Supercells

In simple language, a super cell is a very large storm. It often contains what is called a mesocyclone (a fancy word for saying the storm is already spinning from the air). The cyclone within the super cell often spawns tornados. Supercells are severe storms, but they do not always spawn tornados. They can also spawn hail and other severe weather.

Wind, Wind, Everywhere!

Another condition that has to be present is wind in every direction. Many times storms have wind coming from one direction on one level and then wind coming from another direction on another level. This causes the storm to behave kind of like a top.

Tornados Love Wide Open Spaces

It's bad thinking to assume that because you live in the mountains or along a river that you'll never see a tornado. However, tornados do have a preference for large wide open spaces in which they can touch down, gain momentum and travel.

A Tornado Experiment for Kids to Try

You can create your very own tornado for your kids to watch.

You Will Need

  • Two empty two liter bottles.
  • Water to fill one bottle about 2/3 full.
  • About a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent (this makes the simulated tornado behave a little more realistically.
  • Gorilla tape (if you can't find any, duct tape will do).

Some people also like to add the following, but they are optional and won't affect the outcome of the experiment:

  • Monopoly houses for a more realistic effect.
  • Food coloring makes a very interesting presentation.
  • Glitter to simulate debris.

What You Should Do

Take one two liter bottle and fill it about two thirds the way with water. Add a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent. This helps make the speed and behavior of the vortex, a little more like the real thing.

You may also want to add food coloring, Monopoly houses, or glitter to watch what happens to the debris in a tornado.

Placing the other two liter bottle directly on top of the two litter bottled that is filled with water, place gorilla tape around the bottle necks so that they are standing end to end. From experience, I highly recommend taping the bottles together very, very securely. They should not be able to move from side to side, but rather when you handle them, they should feel like one bottle. I cannot emphasize the need to tape thoroughly enough!

Give it a good twist or turn it end to end and see what happens.

What Happened?

If you watch the funnel as it is formed and wiggles around you are seeing a simulated tornado. If you happened to simulate any type of debris in your bottle (such as Monopoly houses) this little vortex sucks them up just as it would suck up real debris.

What's a Vortex?

Like a real tornado, what you've created is a vortex. When air begins to spin very rapidly, it creates a vacuum in the middle. If you've ever watched water drain from a bathtub, you'll note that the center is empty while the water around it is spinning rapidly. This is also known sometimes as the "eye".

If you watch the news when there's a major hurricane, you'll hear lots of talk about the "eye" and the "eye wall". The eye of the storm is the calmest part while the wall of the eye is the deadliest, spinning the most rapidly.

More Tornado Watching

Just in case your children are interested more in the real thing. . .here are a few resources that you can use learn about tornados.

Weather Wiz Kids

Weather Wiz Kids, as the name implies has information about all sorts of weather. However, it's very informative and gives information in a format that's easy to read and understand.

Storm Chasers

If junior is adventurous perhaps you want to introduce him to the exciting world of storm chasing. (On second thought, if junior is adventurous, perhaps you storm chasing is exactly what you don't want to introduce him to!)

KidsStorm

KidsStorm is another kid friendly website about extreme weather. Tornados are just one type of storm this page features!

Weather Maker

Leave it to the folks at Scholastic to create a great tool to help kids understand the weather. The Weather Maker lets kids create conditions and then see what happens.

Tornado Experiment for Kids