How To Make A Water Tornado

Tornadoes are incredibly destructive forces of nature that can cause catastrophic damage to communities and environments.

They are capable of destroying large buildings, ripping roofs off houses, uprooting trees, driving debris through solid objects, and even lifting humans off the ground.

A tornado, also known as a twister or cyclone, is a violent rotating column of air extending between the Earth’s surface ;and the base of a thunderstorm.

The funnel-shaped column of spinning air can be incredibly devastating. However, we do not need to bear witness to an actual tornado to study and understand the formation of tornadoes and their behavior.

Through a simple and fun science experiment, we can create a safe, contained water tornado right at home, allowing students to observe the formation of a vortex and the principles behind it.

Water tornado in a glass

Making Tornado In A Glass

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

In this experiment, we will make a water tornado safely at our own home. Let's see how a rotating vortex is formed.

Materials

  • water
  • liquid dish soap
  • Chunky glitter (optional)

Tools

  • a tall glass or jar (lid is good but optional)
  • a stirrer (if there is no lid, you can use pencil, chopstick, straw or an actual stirrer to stir)
  • adult supervision

Instructions

  1. Fill the glass with three quarters of water.
  2. Put a few drops of dish soap into the water.
  3. With one hand holding the glass, use the other hand to stir the water quickly in circular steady motion until a vortex or column of spinning bubbles is formed.
  4. If you prefer to use a lid, cover the jar tightly and rotate the jar in circles using your wrist.
  5. Then remove the stirrer, or put down the jar, and observe.
    Glass with tornado shaped water inside and sparkle glitters at the bottom
  6. Add a pinch of glitter to see how the water current moves inside the glass (optional).

Notes

When you stir or spin the water, a vortex is created in the center, similar to the vortex in tornadoes. 

In a vortex, the water swirling on the outside has to move faster than the water on the inside to keep up.

This is why in a hurricane, strong winds are felt far away from the center but the center itself (eye) is calm.

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Creating a Water Tornado: The Science Behind the Experiment

A tornado forms when powerful storms generate strong winds that whip the air into a spinning funnel shape.

The combination of winds and wind shear – the change in wind speed and direction – causes a vortex of wind to form.

In this homemade tornado experiment, the stirring motion simulates that combination of winds, generating a spinning vortex within the jar of water.

When the water is stirred or spun, a vortex is created in the center, similar to the vortex found in tornadoes. The spinning water around the vortex forms a column of spinning bubbles.

In this vortex, the water swirling on the outside has to move at a faster pace than the water on the inside in order to keep up.

This phenomenon can be observed in some of the most powerful storms on Earth, such as hurricanes. In the eye of the hurricane, the winds are calm; it is the areas further from the center that experience strong, destructive winds.

Adding Components to Enhance the Experiment

By using certain additives, this tornado experiment becomes more engaging and helps to better visualize the water currents and motion within the vortex.

Adding a few drops of liquid dish soap improves the visualization, allowing students to see how the water reacts to the circular steady motion.

Additional components such as chunky glitter, food coloring, or drops of food dye can further enhance the visual aspects of the experiment, making it easier for students to follow the movements within the water tornado.

Understanding the Role of Thunderstorms in Tornado Formation

A tornado is often associated with thunderstorms, and understanding the formation of thunderstorms is essential to grasp the behavior of tornadoes.

Thunderstorms form when warm, moist air rises rapidly, creating powerful updrafts. These updrafts generate the conditions necessary for storm clouds to form and quickly develop into a thunderstorm.

As the storm develops, the interaction between the updrafts, downdrafts, and wind shears can cause a vortex to develop, leading to the formation of a tornado.

More Tornado and Weather Fun

Teaching Kids About Tornado Safety

While this water tornado experiment offers a fun and engaging way to introduce students to the science behind tornadoes, it is essential to discuss the power of destructive tornadoes.

Discussing tornado damage, risk, warning systems, and proper safety measures is crucial to ensure students have an accurate understanding of the dangers posed by these natural disasters.

Additionally, students can explore the frequency and occurrence of tornadoes across different regions, increasing their understanding of these potentially dangerous weather events.

Books on Tornadoes

A tall glass with tornado shapped water inside. Make your own water tornado.
Another tall glass with tornado water inside. Make your own water tornado

Last update on 2024-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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