Created by: Fran Pijor
Diocese of Orange



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.


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 questions below. 


Thanks to the Educators Cheap Book for these two acivities.

© Copyright 2001 Boston Museum of Science


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: 

A Few Internet Resources:


Created August 6, 2001
Last Revised November 7, 2001

Teacher Notes

Suggested Grade Level: 6 

Science Content Standards: 

Grade 6: S.C.O.R.E. Lesson Standards (Earth Science  3a, 4e)
Investigation and Experimentation (7a,b,c,d,e,g)

S.C.O.R.E. Lessons Standards Search by Grade and Subject
S.C.O.R.E. Standards and Framework
California Content Standards Grades K-12
California Content Standards Grades K-12 - Science - PDF Format


Students need a basic background in lab procedures, the scientific method, and cooperative team work. (timekeeper, supplies, clean-up). 

Time:  (Total 3-4   45 minute class sessions)





Although we don't really notice it much, air is all around us and is pressing on everything all the time.  Air pressure is caused because air has        weight and it is pulled down to Earth by gravity.  As it is pulled down it squeezes against things - creating AIR PRESSURE.  Slight changes               in air pressure give us a clue about weather changes.  We can measure air pressure and predict the weather with an instrument called a     BAROMETER.




(1)  Cut the neck off the balloon.  Stretch the balloon over the jar and hold it in place with the rubber band.

(2)  Tape the toothpick to the end of the straw.  Tape the other end of the straw to the center of the balloon lid.  Make a weather picture chart on the  piece of paper, with "good weather "marked at the top.

(3)  Make a 1/3 section fold on the piece of cardboard (and cut a triangle to form a support on the back), set the glass jar on the cardboard,  position the weather picture chart  centered directly across from the end of the toothpick and watch to see if the pointer moves a little each day.


(1)  Check the movement of the barometer with that day's weather and determine if there is "greater or less" air pressure on a sunny  weather day versus an overcast or rainy day.  DISCOVERY = Sunny days require _________ air pressure.  (greater/less)  EXPLAIN in your science journal how your activity proves your "discovery "statement.

(2)  Now go ahead and collect air pressure data for a week (or month) and make a line graph with your results.




2-quart (sized) glass jars,  1-pan of hot water,  hemp rope (or incense),   ice cubes (enough to fit on bottom of one glass jar) 1-flashlight, 1-match.


(1)  Put one jar upright in the pan of hot water.

(2)  Have your teacher put smoke in the two jars.

(3)  Then stand the second jar upside down on the first bottle with the mouths of the jar together.

(4)  Put several ice cubes on top of the upper jar.

(5)  Darken the room.


(1)  Use the flashlight and observe the movement of the smoke.

DISCOVERY = The air in the bottom jar being heated will ____.  When it near the top of the second bottle, it will cool and begin to ___________________. Air currents will ___________________ in the two jars.  (cool/rise/swirl)


Web Weather for Kids - Tornadoes

(First activity is excellent for a teacher demonstration)