Students learn about tornadoes - their basic characteristics, damage and occurrence. Students are introduced to the ways that engineers consider strong winds, specifically tornadoes, in their design of structures. Also, students learn how tornadoes are rated, and learn some basics of tornado safety.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Science
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- D. Structures need to be maintained. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard. (Grade 3)  ...show
- Understand how engineers design and build structures to withstand tornado damage.
- Describe tornadoes, how they are measured and how they are formed.
- Understand how the wind and tornadoes affects humans.
- Describe some basics of tornado safety.
Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers
|Large areas of air with common traits such as air pressure and temperature.|
|Pressure caused by the weight of the air.|
|Conditions of a region that includes wind conditions and temperatures.|
|The tendency of cold, dense fluids to fall and displace warm, less dense fluids.|
|A surface that slopes in the atmosphere that separates air masses of different temperature and density.|
|An atmospheric condition in which the air temperature rises with increasing altitude, holding surface air down and preventing dispersion of pollutants.|
|Wind flowing in the westerly direction that is upper level air.|
|Unit of measure for length.|
|According to NOAA, tornadoes often assume a ropy, sinuous shape in their final minutes; but they can remain narrow like this during their entire life cycles.|
|Vortices that offshoot from a tornado.|
|Large, powerful thunderstorms that sometimes produce tornadoes.|
|A way to measure the force of a tornado based on damage.|
|A rotating column of air ranging in width from a few yards to more than a mile and whirling at destructively high speeds, usually accompanied by a funnel-shaped downward extension of a cumulonimbus cloud.|
|A region located in the United States.|
|A spiral motion of fluid within a limited area, especially a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it toward its center.|
|Slang for a tornado that looks wider than the distance from the ground to cloud base.|
- Windstorm - Students will investigate how a tornado forms and learn about the vortex of a tornado.
- Tornado Damage! - Students investigate the damage that tornadoes cause through the eyes of a safety engineer.
- A Tornado in My State? - Students analyze data of tornado occurrences across the U.S. to determine the mean and median.
- Build it Better! - Students imitate structural engineers and use what they know about tornadoes to design a house to withstand tornado-force winds.
- What do you know about tornados?
- Have you ever seen or been in a tornado?
- How are tornados formed?
- Tornados only occur in the Mid-western United States. (Answer: False, tornados strike in all 50 states.)
- Tornados can produce winds exceeding 450 miles per hour. (False, the strongest tornado recorded is 250 mph.)
- Tornados can move objects 100 miles away from where they started. (Answer: True)
- Tornadoes appear almost transparent until they pick up dust and debris or a cloud forms within the funnel. (Answer: True)
- Most tornadoes last over 30 minutes and have wind speeds of more than 200 miles per hour. (Answer: False, most tornadoes only last 1-10 minutes and have wind speeds of less than 110 miles per hour.)
- Tornadoes can kill people. (Answer: True, on average, tornadoes kill 80 people a year, but mostly from flying or falling debris.)
- It is best to be in a mobile home during a tornado. (Answer: False, it is best to be inside a sturdy, reinforced building, preferably in the basement level.)
- A wooden shed is safer than a concrete shed during a tornado. (Answer: False, concrete is stronger and better suited for the high winds of a tornado.)
- Being underground during a tornado is safer than being in the second floor of a house. (Answer: True, being underground, or even on the ground floor of a house, is safer than the second floor.)
- Tornadoes can blow roofs off houses. (Answer: True)
- The Fujita Tornado Damage Scale, or F-Scale, is one scale for rating tornadoes. (Answer: True, it is the only scale that currently exists for rating tornadoes.)
Lesson Summary Assessment
- What is a tornado? (Answer: A tornado is a fast rotating column of air that reaches from a thunderstorm to the ground.)
- Where are safe places to be during a tornado? (Answer: Basements, storm cellars, interior rooms without windows.)
- How fast do tornadoes rotate? (Answer: They can rotate up to 250 mph.)
- Where do tornadoes frequently occur? (Answer: Tornado Alley, east of the Rocky Mountains)
- How long do most tornadoes last? (Answer: Most tornadoes only last 1-10 minutes.)
- What scale do we use to describe tornadoes? (Answer: There is only one scale for rating tornadoes, the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale, or F-Scale.)
- What time of year do most tornadoes occur? (Answer: They most often occur in the spring and summer and in the afternoon and evening hours.)
- What can engineers do to design more tornado resistant homes? (Answer: Engineers can build a safe room on the first floor of a house or underground in a basement, with a concrete foundation, concrete walls, a special door and no windows.)
Lesson Extension Activities
Houghton Mifflin Company. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Jessica Todd, Melissa Straten, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: February 5, 2016