The summer season brings warm sunny days for playing outdoors, but it can also bring opportunities for severe weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Using our geography resources we are learning more about these powerful storm systems and creating a hands-on project to make a tornado in a bottle.
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Weather and the Atmosphere
Through our physical geography studies with North Star Geography we have learned about the layers of earth’s atmosphere. The troposphere is the part of the atmosphere we experience every day. This level begins at the ground and goes about 11 miles up from the earth’s surface.
Most of the earth’s weather phenomena, such as clouds and rain, are caused and experienced in the troposphere. – North Star Geography, Chapter 8
Each season we gather our instruments and track weather conditions using our homemade weather station tools. During the summer months we notice we have more hours of sunshine and the temperatures climb rather dramatically during the day.
Storms including heavy rains and high winds can form quickly in the summer afternoons. It is important to understand how these storms develop and what we can do to prepare for extreme weather.
Types of Storms: Tornado & Hurricane
The two storms we have been focusing on are tornadoes and hurricanes.
A tornado forms at the bottom of cumulonimbus clouds. Its swirling air currents follow a downdraft to the earth’s surface. Tornadoes can have wind speeds of up to 300 miles per hour.
A few interesting facts:
- Tornadoes have been recorded on every continent except Antarctica.
- Most tornadoes occur in Tornado Alley – a portion of the American Great Plains between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains.
- A tornado that form over water are called waterspouts.
Hurricanes, or cyclones, are giant tropical storms formed at sea over warm surface currents. Cool air from higher in the atmosphere falls, and the spinning of the earth sets them swirling to form spiral-shaped storms.
- Cyclones have different names depending on their point of origin – in the Atlantic they are called hurricanes and in the Pacific Ocean they are referred to as typhoons.
- When a tropical storm’s winds reach 74 mph or grater the storm officially becomes a hurricane.
- The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 – November 30 each year.
Make a Tornado in a Bottle
A fun hands-on project your family can use to learn more about tornadoes and hurricanes is to create a vortex with water.
A vortex is a whirling mass of water or air. A tornado is a whirling mass of air in the form of a visible column or spiral.
For this simple project you will need:
- Two 2-liter plastic soda bottles
- Plastic Tornado Tube
- Optional: Food coloring and small plastic figures (such as LEGOs) to represent “debris”. Instead of a Tornado Tube you could also use a washer and duct tape.
- Fill one bottle 2/3 full with water.
- Optional – add food coloring and/or “debris” to the bottle.
- Securely connect the Tornado Tube to the bottle.
- Connect the empty bottle to the other end of the Tornado Tube. (If you use duct tape, place a washer between the openings of the 2 bottles and then use duct tape to secure bottles together).
- Flip the bottles over so the water filled bottle is on top. Gently swirl the bottles in a clockwise direction to create a vortex.
If you are looking for additional hands-on projects to help your family learn about storms and weather, the North Star Geography Activity Guide includes instructions for making your own wind box, storm surge box, and more!