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Weather Experiment: Tornado vortex in a bottle with Holland Heights Elementary

Chief Meteorologist Kevin Craig joined Mrs. Conway's 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms
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Posted at 7:00 PM, Mar 14, 2023

WEST MICHIGAN — As the warmer weather approaches, severe thunderstorms are possible in West Michigan and they can (and oftentimes do) spawn tornadoes. In our weather kids experiment today, we create a mock tornado or vortex in a bottle for the second and third-graders in Mrs. Conway's class at Holland Heights Elementary.

We need two clear 64-ounce soda bottles, one with about three-quarters full of water. A plastic coupler to tie or link the bottles together is necessary too. The bottle can also be duct-taped together in a pinch. If the bottle is inverted with the water on top, inducing a spin will create a tornado, vortex, or swirling motion which will drain into the lower bottle. The purpose is to replicate a tornado with the spinning water and vortex transferring from one bottle to another.

Weather Experiment: Tornado vortex in a bottle with Holland Heights Elementary

Tornadoes are created by a spinning motion. Many times when cold and warm air meet, that can force, start, or induce a spinning motion in the atmosphere. Whether in a bottle of water or in the atmosphere, it's fluid dynamics. Both operate in a similar fashion. Putting a spin on the water bottles will ultimately create a tornado or vortex in the bottle.

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. It is often referred to as a twister, whirlwind or cyclone. Tornadoes in the northern hemisphere rotate counterclockwise, and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. If the condensation funnel of a tornado never makes contact with the ground, it's considered a funnel cloud. It must make contact with the ground in order to be considered a tornado.

It's worth noting that cold air funnels over Lake Michigan form in a similar fashion. Warmer lake waters in the fall can create a spinning motion when colder air flows over the lake. These funnels are typically much weaker than regular (inland) tornadoes.