Creating your own tornado in a bottle

Creating your own tornado in a bottle
Children’s Corner

Tornados are one of the world’s scariest natural phenomenon but they are also hugely interesting and much can be learnt by observing them from a scientific perspective. Fortunately in Ireland these powerful vortexes don’t develop on the scale they do in other countries.

To make a tornado, you need just the right mix of ingredients: Warm, humid air near the ground, cold air higher up in the atmosphere and wind that overlaps while moving at different speeds or directions.

Believe it or not, few places on Earth check all of these boxes. And none compares to the Great Plains of the United States, also known as tornado alley. On average, the US has upwards of 1,200 tornados a year, mostly in the Midwest and Southeast.

Possible warning signs that a tornado could be forming are a dark, greenish sky and then black storm clouds gathering. Sometimes large hail begins to fall.

A misty funnel appears, as though descending from a cloud, and when that funnel hits the ground – depending on the size of the tornado – it roars forward with a sound like a freight train approaching. A particularly powerful tornado can destroy everything in its path.

Using easy to find items such as dish washing liquid, water, glitter and a bottle you can make your own mini tornado that’s a lot safer than one you might see across the pond. Follow the instructions and enjoy the cool water vortex you create!

  • Water
  • A clear plastic bottle with a cap (that won’t leak)
  • Glitter
  • Dish washing liquid
  • Fill the plastic bottle with water until it reaches three quarters full.
  • Add a few drops of washing-up liquid.
  • Sprinkle in a few pinches of glitter (this will make your tornado easier to see).
  • Put the cap on tightly.
  • Turn the bottle upside down and hold it by the neck. Quickly spin the bottle in a circular motion for a few seconds, stop and look inside to see if you can see a mini tornado forming in the water. You might need to try it a few times before you get it working properly.

What’s happening?

Spinning the bottle in a circular motion creates a water vortex that looks like a mini tornado. The water is rapidly spinning around the centre of the vortex due to centripetal force – an inward force directing an object or fluid such as water towards the centre of its circular path. Vortexes found in nature include tornadoes, hurricanes and waterspouts (a tornado that forms over water).