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Weather experiment learning about thunderstorm formation

Posted at 6:09 AM, Mar 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 12:38:51-04

GRAND RAPIDS — We'll be experiencing April showers before you know it, which means thunderstorms are in our future. But have you ever stopped to wonder how thunderstorms happen? Our Candace Monacelli shows us a cool weather experiment you can do with the kids to learn more as severe weather awarness week continues in Michigan.

This experiment dives more into how thunderstorms form and shows the interaction with warm and cold air displaying the convection process!

Items you will need:
- Clear plastic container (better if it’s a longer container)
- Red food coloring
- Ice cubes made with blue food coloring (make these ahead of time)
- Warm water

Step 1: fill the container two-thirds of the way with warm water and let that water sit for a minute or two

Step 2: place the blue ice cube at one end of the container

Step 3: add a few drops of red food coloring to the water on the other end of the container

Step 4: watch what happens

The blue ice cubes act as our cold air in the atmosphere and the warm red water acts as our warm unstable air. You’ve all heard the saying warm air rises, right? Well that’s whats happening in this experiment and it’s the same thing that happens with warm air in the formation of a thunderstorm.

Unstable air and convection play big roles in thunderstorm formation. Convection is what's happening when the blue water sinks to the bottom of the container and forces the red water to the top of the container.

When cold air arrives typically in the form of a cold front it undercuts that warm air forcing it to rise and then causes that air to condense into a cloud and into a thunderstorm. Its this forces from the cold air that forms the thunderstorm and showcases the process of convection!

Watch closes when doing this experiment! As the blue cold water and red warm water mix through you can see the waves of temperature contrast interacting. The container will turn more of a purple color as everything mixes together forming this thunderstorm but we'll still have the cold blue water on the bottom with warm red on the top.

There you have it! The formation of a thunderstorm! This one you really have to try at home to see everything up close so plan ahead now and freeze some blue ice cubes this morning! Send your experiment pictures to our meteorologist Candace Monacelli on her Facebook page or to her email inbox at She will feature some future meteorologists on her Facebook page each day!