Created by:
Fran Pijor
Diocese of Orange

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UCI Summer Science Institute WebQuests - 2001

UCI Science WebQuests from all years



You are about to enter the turbulent world of tornadoes. You will be asked:
(1) to investigate what causes a tornado to occur
(2) to discover how fast a "fast" tornado is
(3) what to do "before or when" one is headed your way.


A thunderstorm is usually where a tornado is born.  The storm begins as warm, humid air rises upward from the 
ground creating updrafts.  These updrafts cool in the upper atmosphere.  As they cool, the moisture in them forms clouds.  The water droplets in the clouds grow larger as water vapor around them liquifies or condenses. 
When these water droplets then begin to fall, downdrafts are created.  The downdrafts collide with the newly 
formed updrafts, which continue feeding warm humid air into a spreading thunderhead cloud. 

It is during this most violent time in the thunderstorm that a tornado may form at the edge of the updraft, where 
it meets the downdraft.  The updraft pulls air away from the ground, which creates an area of low pressure. 
More air rushes in to take the place of air that's been pulled up.  Then the falling water droplets in the 
downdraft get swept in and begin to form the tornado's funnel shaped cloud. 
As the swirling winds pick up dirt and materials from the ground, the funnel grows darker.

A Quick Illustrated Explantion of What Causes a Tornado.
ACTIVITY #1-Tornado In A Bottle
Students will demonstrate and understand the principals of a vortex, observe and simulate a tornado and understand the weather phenomena of how a tornado originates.

Click on "Create Tornado!" to find the materials you will need and the procedures to follow.

(1)  Complete the experiments. "Create a Tornado!"
(1)  Describe what you saw and define the term vortex. 
(2)  Time how long it will take for the water to drain from the top bottle. 
(3)  Try flipping the bottles without swirling the top bottle and repeat step 2.
(4)  Record all data
(5)  Complete the accompaning "Create a Tornado worksheet"

ACTIVITY #2-Tornado Air Movement 

Discover how air moves inside a tornado using Glitter.

Click here on  proceed "Create Tornado!" with this activity using glitter. 
Anwser the quuestions below.

(1)  Determine which moved faster, the glitter near the center of the vortex or
       near the bottle's wall. 
(2)  Flip the bottles, again without swirling the top bottle, and note what the 
       glitter does this time. 
(3)  Record all data.

Thanks to the Educators Cheap Book for these two acivities.
© Copyright 2001 Boston Museum of Science

Try Dorothy's recipe for a Twister in a bottle.

Answer the questions on Why Files Twister Page
Follow the hyper links to answer the questions.

Exploratorium - Vortex in a bottle.

Check out other interesting weather phenomena and topics from


***** Now view a quicktime movie clip to see the real thing! *****
For a 972 Kb Quicktime Tornado Movie
Click here to download a Quicktime Player for PC or Mac

When a tornado touches down, it creates an explosion of dust and wreckage on the ground.  One monster tornado that touched down in Illinois in 1990, picked up a 20-ton truck and deposited it in a field over eleven hundred feet away.  Strong tornadoes can easily pick up houses and move them hundreds of feet from their original locations.  Tornadoes have been known to pick up turtles and frogs from ponds and drop them coated with ice like hailstones
in neighboring towns.   Powerful tornadoes can uproot trees and break their trunks in half.  They also have the
capability of hurling debris with such force that the materials can penetrate concrete. 

Follow this link to see How tornadoes are rated.



The Fujita-Pearson Tornado Intensity Scale ranks tornadoes according to their wind speed and the kind of damage they can cause.  So grab a calculator, a pencil, and sheet of paper and visit  DISASTER MATH
DISCOVERY TASK:   Check your  monstrous "math speed" and accuracy and see how much damage you can 
do on these problems.



Now view an actual tornado's path of destruction that touched down in Hamilton County, Ohio. 

DISCOVERY TASK:  Predict what rating the scientists would have given it and explain you answer choice 
using the Fuijita Scale. 

Learning about tornadoes can help to save lives.  One can also prevent injury by being alert to the onset of severe weather.  Learn the signs of approaching bad weather, and know where to tune in for weather forecasts on the radio or TV.  If a tornado watch is issued for your area, it means a tornado is possible, because one has already been spotted either on the ground or on radar.  It is also good to know, before a tornado strikes, where to go for shelter.  Having a "tornado ready kit" is also a wise thing to have on hand. 

Follow this link to learn more about tornado preparedness.

DISCOVERY TASK:  Have some fun and play "Tornado Match Up."  Keep a tally of the number of tries it takes
for you to clear the board.  Test your skills against a classmate and learn to stay tornado safe!


Resources Needed: 
Computer with Internet access
Materials to complete lab activities and discovery tasks
Lab worksheet

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August 6, 2001
Revised November 7, 2001

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