Real photograph of two tornaoes with dual bursts of lightning

This tornado experiment will blow you away!

A tornado is a powerful, twisting windstorm (now that really does sound like Dad, doesn’t it). The winds of a tornado are the most violent winds that occur on the earth. They whirl around the center of the storm at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour (and that’s faster than Dad running to the bathroom during a commercial break). A tornado is a rotating funnel cloud that extends downward from a mass of dark clouds. Some funnels do not reach the earth. Others may strike the surface of the earth, withdraw into the dark clouds above, and then dip down and strike the earth again. In this science experiment, we are going to recreate a tornado – within the safety of your own home!

  1. Fill the glass jar about 3/4 full of water (for that ‘Wizard of Oz’ effect, throw in a few Monopoly houses).
  2. Add some food coloring along with about a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent.
  3. Put the lid on the jar and shake it vigorously for about 20 seconds.
  4. Now, give the jar a good twist.

Pretty cool, huh? The liquid inside the jar will form a vortex or funnel that looks and acts just like a real tornado. The tornado’s body will even lengthen and contract just like the real thing too.

Click to get puzzle piece!

Parent’s Note

Here’s some tornado safety tips you may want to share with your kids.

Discuss with family members the difference between a “tornado watch” and a “tornado warning.”

A tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service when tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms. This is time to remind family members where the safest places within your home are located, and listen to the radio or television for further developments.

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

If at home:

  • Go at once to the basement, storm cellar, or the lowest level of the building.
  • If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Get away from the windows.
  • Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris (and rats).
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
  • Use arms to protect head and neck (and to wave at Dorothy as she passes by).
  • If in a mobile home, get out and find a cardboard box (they’re much safer).

If at work or school:

  • Go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level.
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
  • Use arms to protect head and neck.

If outdoors:

  • If possible, get inside a building.
  • If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building. Be aware of the potential for flooding.
  • Use arms to protect head and neck.

If in a car:

  • Never try to outrun a tornado in a car or truck. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift up a car or truck and toss it through the air.
  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building.
  • If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding.

Experiment Supplies

Supplies: Food dye, Liquid detergent, Glass jar

Sources: Texas A&M
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