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The Science behind Tornadoes

How do tornadoes form?

  • Tornadoes form when warm and humid air collides with cold and dry air.

  • The denser cold air is pushed over the warm which usually produces thunderstorms.

  • The warm air rises through the colder air, causing an updraft. The updraft will begin to rotate if winds vary sharply in speed or direction.


How are thunderstorms involved?

  • When the water vapor rises in a tornado, it cools down and condenses.

  • That condensation then turns and releases the latent heat which is the biggest single source of energy in a thunderstorm.

  • This latent heat warms up the rising air which causes a density difference that lifts the air fast enough to form a tornado.​

  • Large thunderstorms that have winds already in rotation causes violent thunderstorms.


How do tornadoes end?

Tornadoes end when it moves over colder surface/ground. When the updrafts lose energy the tornado does too, and it slowly disappears.


Tornado jar experiment

Supplies Needed

  • Empty Glass Bottle with Lid

  • 3-4 tablespoons Glitter (the more glitter the better!)

  • Funnel

  • Water

How to do the experiment?

  1. Use the funnel to put 3-4 tablespoons of glitter in an empty glass jar.

  2. Next, fill the jar about 3/4 full of water.

  3. Put the lid back on the jar and make sure it is really tight.

  4. Turn the bottle upside down and quickly move the bottle in a circular motion for 10-15 seconds.

  5. Finally, set the bottle down on the table and observe the tornado that has formed

Science behind this experiment

  • When you spin the bottle in a circular motion it creates a water vortex that looks like a tornado. The water spins around the centre of the vortex because of centripetal force.​

  • Centripetal force is any force that causes an object (in this case water) to move in a circular path​

  • Because there is glitter in the water you can see the spinning water more clearly. The glitter is similar to the dust and debris that are found spinning in an actual tornado​

Click here to watch a video demonstration of the experiment

Click here to see the instructions to make this experiment (With pictures)

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