Hands-on Activity: Windstorm
Educational Standards :
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this activity, students should be able to:
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
Tornados can produce winds up to and over 250 mph. In rare circumstances, tornadoes winds have been measured up to 379 mph. According to NOAA, about 1,000 tornadoes are reported across the United States in an average year, resulting in 80 deaths and over 1,500 injuries.
Tornados are a violently rotating column of wind that can pick up cars and propel them like missiles. They can lift off roofs or even move houses right off their foundation. Tornadoes are usually produced from thunderstorm storms and can cause a damage path greater than one mile wide and up to 50 miles long. Tornados occur at different times in different locations. Peak tornado season in the southern states occurs during March through May. Whereas in the northern states, the peak tornado season occurs from July to August. There is little known information about how tornadoes form. We do know, however, that tornadoes are normally associated with severe thunderstorms and that unstable air aids in their strength.
Tornados can occur at anytime, but most of them have been spotted in the afternoon and evening hours, because the air is hottest in the afternoon and therefore has the greatest tendency to rise. They also can travel in any direction, but according to NOAA, most tornados move from southwest to northeast, or west to east. Not all tornadoes follow these rules and some change direction, or even backtrack. The length of time that tornadoes last varies from a few seconds to more than an hour but most last less than 10 minutes. Because of all the variation in tornadoes, tornadoes are very difficult to study, and as a result, we know little about them.
There are two main types of tornados: rope (see Figure 2) and wedge (see Figure 3). Rope tornadoes are very long and narrow, and wedge tornadoes are huge and wide. Rope tornadoes can produce stronger winds than wedge tornadoes, and vise versa. Size does not mean strength!
Tornadoes occur with the most intensity in the United States in a region called Tornado Alley, which consists of the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.
Today we are going to look at a tornado in a bottle to model the spinning vortex of an actual tornado. This is information that engineers need to understand to be able to predict the damage of tornadoes and how to build structures to keep people safe from the ferocious spinning winds generated by tornadoes.
Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)
Procedure (Return to Contents)
Before the Activity
With the Students
Attachments (Return to Contents)
Troubleshooting Tips (Return to Contents)
Make sure to check seals on bottles. There is the potential for a big water mess if they twist the bottles before they are completely sealed with duct tape.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Discussion: Discuss how tornadoes form and the difference between a wedge and a rope tornado. Show pictures of tornadoes. Point out the vortex (center) of the tornado. Explain that the strength of the tornado does not depend on its size.
Journal/Vocabulary: Using the Windstorm Journal Page (attached), have students fill out the "Vocabulary" section with the following vocabulary words: tornado, vortex, wedge tornado and rope tornado. Have the students define these terms on their own or define together as a class.
Activity Embedded Assessment
Journal: Ask students to record their observations in the "What I've Observed" column on their journal page. Tell students that good scientists record their observations and that an observation is anything that stands out as important during the activity.
Journal: Ask students to write down what they have learned under the "What I've Learned" column of the journal. Also, ask them to record any additional questions they might have under that column. Verbally go over what students have learned and record on the board. Then ask for one or two additional questions.
Informative Flyer: Engineers need to know how tornadoes form and travel in order to help protect people from them. Have the students create an informative flyer about tornadoes by drawing a picture of the spinning vortex of a tornado on a piece of paper. Next to or around the drawing, have student list some facts about tornadoes or things that they have learned about tornadoes. Display these flyers around the classroom or in the hallways to help other students learn about tornadoes.
Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)
Forecast future tornadoes!
Research hurricanes and see how they compare to tornados.
Create a smaller vortex using a medium-sized jar:
Places to find further information about Tornados:
References (Return to Contents)
ContributorsJessica Todd, Melissa Straten, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
Copyright© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Acknowledgements (Return to Contents)
The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education, and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.