Monday, 2 February 2015

When Storms Get Too Much

For some reason, I had never understood the difference between a tornado and a hurricane, until now when we actually look into the matter.  I knew that both have something to do with strong winds and rain, but that was about it.

The other thing that I was very confused about was the difference between cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes.  It turns out that they all refer to the same thing; the only difference lies in where the wind originates.

We did a few experiments to coincide with what we were learning.

The first experiment has to do with seeing how wind movement varies depending on where it is within the hurricane.  What we did was basically to tie a paper clip to a piece of string then drop the paper clip into the outer edge and inner part of a small glass bowl of whirlpool.

Our bowl is too small so our observation only lasted a few seconds.  However, we did observe that the paper clip moved much faster when dropped in the inner parts of the whirlpool compared to when it was dropped on the edge.

The next experiment has to do with testing different strengths of wind using a "wind tunnel" made out of a cardboard box.  We placed a few items made out of different materials (e.g. pewter, plastic, paper) and had a fan blow at them at three different strengths.

Wind strength 1:

Wind strength 2:

Wind strength 3:

Since changes in weather are ultimately caused by a change in air pressure, we decided to make a simple barometer.

The idea is that it should work like this:

We dutifully placed our homemade barometer and measuring strip outside to wait for the changes in atmospheric pressure, only to find that the strip would not stay on outside due to exposure to the wind and rain.  It is no good placing the barometer indoors because the air pressure inside is not going to change enough to cause the marker to change.  In view of that, we made another barometer, this time placing it inside a bigger jar.

The reason for placing the barometer in a bigger jar is to enable us to observe how the barometer actually works by changing the air pressure inside the bigger jar by pushing and pulling on the balloon cover that enclosed the jar.

 We also learnt a fair bit about air pressure and its relation to temperature from the following documentary:

To understand the scale and destructive potential of a hurricane, we looked at what happened when Hurricane Katrina landed in New Orleans a few years ago:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Science Sunday #14
  2. Collage Friday: A Typical Week in Foundations
  3. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with sunshine, emerging routines, and vocabulary cards
  4. My Week in Review #22
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/3/15
  6. History and Geography Meme #152
  7. Fininshing Strong #41 


  1. I love these and will try some of them out! Two of my grandparents were native Floridians (my grandfather always pronounced hurricane the way people in Miami did when he was growing up--hur-i-cun--and my grandmother remained terrified of them her entire life). My daughter is fascinated by severe weather and other natural disasters but is completely meh about the risk of volcanoes and earthquakes to her (after all, the volcanoes are there, and on a good day we can see three, and she's the third generation of her family to be born beneath one, but--unlike me--she's never been in an earthquake). I am realistic about both, because I would much rather deal with a rare threat I don't see coming (despite being in a 7.2 quake) than one I can. Which is probably not logical, but whatever. We're overdue for a 9.0 earthquake here in the shadow of Mt. Hood, so...

    So we have spent hours upon hours pouring over books about hurricanes and typhoons (my explanation was: "it's just a hurricane in a different ocean," which probably came from a member of the family in the navy). And she is terrified my husband's job hunt might mean we'd live in a flat state with the potential for tornadoes! (And mosquitoes. But that is another story.)

    1. Most people, including children, find severe weather conditions fascinating. My husband is an exception and he rolls his eyes every time I start talking about the weather. Maybe he's heard it too many times, having to live with the cliche of the British's fascination with weather.

      We have been very lucky in that the UK is generally mild where the weather is concerned, and I certainly don't wish to live in fear of any potential natural disaster! There is much to learn when living in a high-risk area but I won't put my family in that situation for the thrill of it! Your daughter should not worry, unless you intend to live in Tornado Valley. :-)

    2. I keep London's forecast on my phone, because a girl can dream about moving to the UK. Oregon's climate is nearly identical; it's very mild, and we have exquisite summers. But on our clear days, there are the volcanoes. She's the third generation to be born under the shadow of one (in her case two) of the Cascade volcanoes. I'd definitely miss them if we left..and I do like a good earthquake. :)

    3. Ooh, I'd be careful with what I wish for! ;-) I'm not sure being in an earthquake is my idea of fun at all, but you'll be fine as long as you're prepared and know what to do, I suppose. My son would think it very cool to be able to see volcanoes from where you are, as would I, actually. :-)

    4. Ack, redundant comment above. I should say this: I had to cover her eyes (she covered her ears) for a tornado alley IMAX film preview! But the local science museum had an exhibit a few years ago that took film from 360 degrees during a tornado and projected it onto screens in a circle, so you could "stand" as it went past and over you. That was definitely terrifying. I only vaguely remember the sound of tornado sirens and going to the school basement when I was a kid living in the midwest, but it was enough to only want to stand in that exhibit once.

    5. Goodness me. The tornado exhibit sounds incredibly realistic! The Natural History Museum in London has an earthquake simulator but it is very mild compared to what you've described.

      I've heard air raid sirens a few times (when my son and I were at a WWII reenactment) and remember them to be very frightening and panic-inducing. That's certainly not a sound that I'd enjoy hearing!

  2. Wonderful study.... this kind of learning will stick with your family for a lifetime!!! :) Great experiments.

    1. Thank you! It has been fascinating to learn about the various aspects of extreme weather condition. We've certainly learnt loads! :-)

  3. I suppose you wouldn't know as much about them not living in an area that is effected by them. We have tornadoes through here every now and then, and hurricanes hit South Texas about once a year or so.

    1. Tiger was just saying that we are more of 'armchair meterologists' than *real* ones who make predictions rather than report after-the-fact. As fascinating and exciting as extreme weather conditions are, I'd much prefer to study them at a safe distance! :-)

  4. Another of your wonderful studies!

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words, Phyllis. :-)


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