A tornado is one of the most destructive natural forces on Earth. They typically form over warm bodies of water during the spring and summer months in the US Midwest and Great Plains regions, although they can occur anywhere in the world where the necessary conditions come together.
If you live in an area where tornadoes are common, you’ve probably been through a few drills in school or at work about what to do if one approaches. But have you ever wondered how these massive rotating columns of air form in the first place?
The most important ingredient for a tornado is what’s known as differential heating. This occurs when there are large temperature differences between the ground and the air above it. The warm air near the ground rises while the colder air above it sinks, creating a rotating column of air.
This column of air can be further strengthened by what’s known as an updraft, which is created when the warm air near the ground rises faster than the column of air above it. This can happen when there’s a large difference in the air temperatures, or when the air near the ground is heated by the Sun more than the air higher up.
Once the column of air starts to rotate, it can be further strengthened by something called wind shear. This is when the wind speed and direction changes at different levels in the atmosphere. This can be caused by the Earth’s rotation, or by changes in the land surface (like when a cold front moves in).
The resulting column of rotating air is what we call a tornado. They can range in size from just a few meters wide to over a kilometer wide, and they can last for minutes or hours.
If you want to try and create your own miniature tornado, you’ll need a few things. First, you’ll need a clear plastic bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure the bottle is clean and dry, and fill it about three-quarters full with water.
Next, you’ll need something to act as your “updraft.” This can be a piece of paper, a small balloon, or even a piece of thread. Place your updraft in the center of the bottle, and screw the lid on tightly.
Now, turn the bottle upside down and start swirling it around in a circular motion. As you do this, you should see the water start to spin and the updraft begin to rise. The faster you swirl the bottle, the more intense the tornado will become.
Once you’re done, carefully unscrew the lid and enjoy your very own tornado in a bottle!