Books, Science/Math

Tornado in a Bottle

Summertime is tornado time in much of the U.S. Spring weather brings severe thunderstorms, which spawn twisters in midwest and eastern states. For me, this post is especially timely. A tornado struck the downtown area of my parents’ hometown just a couple of days ago. Fortunately no one was injured.

In our house, we love to read about weather and our world. We just finished Mary Kay Carson’s Inside Tornadoes, another fantastic book in Sterling’s series. (See my previous post about Melissa Stewart’s Inside Volcanoes.) We learned the deadly mix of ingredients that spells recipe for disaster: windshear (layers of wind moving in opposite directions) and thunderstorms, which together can form a mesocyclone, a nursery for tornadoes. It’s no wonder that most tornadoes strike in May and June in areas where spring rains are prevalent (fortunately not in California). We also learned about tornadoes’ destructive power, including winds of 200 mph or more that can level entire towns in minutes.

In her book, Carson includes a safe way for children to experience a tornado — in a bottle. I’ve modified her activity, based upon our experience.

What you’ll need:

  • Cookie sheet
  • Two empty, 2-liter bottles
  • Duct tape
  • Water
  • Food coloring (your choice)

What you do:

  • Use the cookie sheet as your workspace to capture any water that leaks.
  • Fill one 2-liter bottle 3/4 of the way full with water.
  • Add a few drops of food coloring, recap the bottle and shake to mix.
  • Remove the cap from the bottle. Invert the second, empty bottle, and place it upside down on top of the first bottle. Use duct tape to secure the two bottles together.
  • Now carefully flip the bottles over, so the bottle full of water is on top. We found holding the bottles where the duct tape was worked best.
  • Give the bottle a little swirl to help your funnel cloud form.

Sterling’s Inside series is a great resource. The books are a conversation-starter for weather emergencies and disaster plans at home. Though we don’t get tornadoes, we discussed our major weather emergency — earthquakes — and what we would do if we had one. If you need a place to start, check out this FEMA site.