Tornados ( also known as twisters, cyclones or funnels ) are powerful vertical columns of rapidly spinning air. They extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. Tornados can occur almost anywhere with the right conditions but Tornado Alley in the United States is a hotspot area. Tornado Alley includes Northern Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

Image of a tornado

Tornados can cause huge amounts of damage, from destroying buildings and bridges to picking up and dropping people. Flying debris is a major cause of injury from tornados.

This activity is part of my Around the World in 50 Experiments series.

Tornado and a tornado in a jar as a science activity for an around the world series.

Tornados are a fairly frequent occurance with over 1000 per year in the United States alone.

How to make a tornado in a jar

You’ll need

A small wide jar with a lid


Dish soap ( washing up liquid )



Fill the jar to almost the top with water and add a little dish soap ( washing up liquid ) and glitter.

Pop the lid on the top and swirl the jar around . You should see a vortex form which looks like a tornado.

Image of a tornado in a jar made from water and dish soap swirling

Tornado Facts

A tornado is only classed as a tornado if it hits the ground.

Most tornados form once the sun has had time to warm the ground and air in the afternoon.

The intensity of a tornado is measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale between EF-0 and EF-5. F5 is the most violet and EF-0 the weakest.

Hail is common feature of the thunderstorm that precedes or accompanies a tornado.

Tornados can look invisible until they pick up dust and debris.

A tornado can last anything from just a few minutes to several hours once it hits the ground.

Tornado wind speed can be up to 300 miles per hour!

Tornados can have more than one vortex!!

The most destructive tornado on record was in Banglasdesh in 1989. It destroyed over 20 villages and killed about 1300 people!

How does a tornado form?

Tornados usually form when moist, warm air collides with dry, cold air in the atmosphere.

The warm air rises and the cold air falls creating a large thunderstorm. The combination of updrafts of air and winds moving at different speeds can cause a spinning effect. If a funnel cloud forms and becomes long enough to touch the ground it turns into a tornado!

Diagram of how a tornado forms

What is a waterspout

A waterspout is a tornado which occurs over water, this is especially common in the tropics. Water is drawn up into the waterspout. They are usually less violent than a tornado but can capsize boats.

What is a supercell?

A supercell is a big thunderstorm that lasts a long time. The most destructive tornados are formed inside supercells.

More Weather Science Experiments

Try one of my collection of easy weather science experiments.

Learn all about rainbows. How and why rainbows form and how you can make your own.

This rainbow rain activity from Steam Powered Family is brilliant too!

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Originally posted at Science Sparks