National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Weather Educational Resources and Experiments for K-12 Teachers

K-3 Experiments

Construct a Weather Journal

Supplies

  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • glue
  • preprinted labels 
  • crayons
  • recording pages

Instructions

  1. Fold a large piece of construction paper in half to make a book cover.
  2. Staple a stack of recording pages in the middle.
  3. Cut out clouds, the sun, and raindrops, and glue them onto the cover.
  4. Draw in snow and fog gluing additional labels onto the cover if desired.
  5. Record the day's weather (temperature, sunny, partly sunny, cloudy, wind, rain, snow, thunderstorm, etc) *These do not have to be actual measurements. The point is for students to pay attention to the weather and record what they see or experience.*   

Create a Rainbow

Supplies

  • glass of water
  • sheet of white paper
  • sunlight

Instructions

  1. Fill the glass to the top with water
  2. Place the glass of water on the edge of a table so that it is half on and half off of the table (be careful not to let the glass fall)
  3. Make sure that the sun can shine through the glass.
  4. Place the white sheet of paper on the floor.
  5. Adjust the paper and the glass until a rainbow forms on the paper.

Explanation

 

light is made up of many colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. When light passes through the water, it is broken up into all of the colors seen in a rainbow.

Soda Bottle Tornado

Supplies

  • two 2-liter clear plastic bottles
  • water
  • food coloring
  • glitter
  • duct tape

Instructions

  1. Fill one bottle two thirds of the way full with water.
  2. Add food coloring and some glitter to the water in that bottle.
  3. Place the other bottle Upside Down on top of the existing bottle (connecting the spouts of the soda bottles), and wrap duct tape around the spouts to tightly connect and seal the two bottles.
  4. Flip the bottles so that the bottle with the colored water and glitter is on top, then immediately swirl in a circular motion.
  5. This will create a vortex causing a tornado to form in the top bottle as the water rushes into the bottom bottle.

Make a Snowflake

Supplies

  • string
  • scissors
  • wide-mouth jar
  • measuring cups
  • white pipe cleaners
  • blue food coloring
  • boiling water
  • borax
  • pencil

Instructions

  1. Cut a white pipe cleaner into thirds.
  2. Twist the 3 sections together in the center so that you have a shape that resembles a 6-sided star.
  3. Make sure the points of the star are even by cutting them to the same length.
  4. Tie the string to the top of star, and tie the opposite end to the middle of pencil.
  5. Carefully fill the jar with boiling water using measuring cups until the jar is full.
  6. For each cup of water, add 3 tablespoons of borax.
  7. Stir until mixture is dissolved, but do not worry if some borax settles to bottom.
  8. Add blue food coloring.
  9. Dangle the pipe cleaner snowflake that you made into the jar by resting the pencil across the mouth of the jar. You do not want the snowflake laying on the bottom of the jar, so shorten the length of the string if necessary.
  10. Leave the snowflake overnight, and when you return in the morning, you will find the snowflake covered in crystals.

Make Your Own Rain Gauge

Supplies

  • one 2-liter bottle
  • Sharpie
  • stones
  • water
  • scissors
  • ruler
  • masking tape

Instructions

  1. Cut away the top third of the bottle.
  2. Pack stones at the bottom of the bottle.
  3. Pour water into the bottle until it is just above the stone level.
  4. Using the ruler as a guide, draw a scale on a piece of masking tape.
  5. Place the tape with your scale on the side of the bottle. The bottom of the scale must be just above the current water line.
  6. Invert the top of the bottle and place it into the bottle to act as a funnel.
  7. Leave the bottle outside, and measure any new rainfall by observing the change of water level up the scale.

 

Grades 4-8 Experiments

Fog and Cloud in a Jar

Supplies

  • black paper
  • gallon jar
  • warm water
  • food coloring
  • matches
  • bag of ice

Instructions

  1. Tape black paper to the back of the jar so that it is no longer transparent.
  2. Fill one third of the jar with warm water, and add food coloring.
  3. Light the match and hold it over the jar opening.
  4. After 5-10 seconds, drop match into jar, then cover the top with the bag of ice.
  5. A cloud should begin to form. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the cloud forms.
  6. Record your observations.

Explanation

The warm water heats the layer of air that it touches. Some of the water evaporates into the air forming water vapor. The warm air containing water vapor rises, and then cools, as it comes in contact with the air cooled by the ice. When the water molecules cool, they slow down and stick together more readily. The particles of smoke act as nuclei for “bunches” of water molecules to collect on. This process is called condensation.

Simulating Thunderstorms

Supplies

  • clear plastic container the size and shape of a shoebox
  • red and blue food coloring
  • egg crate (to make ice cubes)
  • colored pencils
  • index cards

Instructions

  1. The day before, fill all compartments of an egg crate with water, add blue food coloring to each compartment, then place in a freezer. This will make blue ice cubes.
  2. Fill plastic container two thirds full with room temperature water.
  3. Let water sit until it is completely still, which will be about 30 seconds.
  4. Place a blue ice cube in the water at one end of the container.
  5. Add 2 drops of red food coloring to the water at opposite end of the container.
  6. Use red and blue pencils to draw what you see happening on your index card.

Explanation

Water is flowing from one position to another; heat is being transferred; convection is occurring in the container! The cold, blue water sinks, while the warmer, red water rises. The red water stays higher than the blue.

Making Rain

Supplies

  • large jar (mayonnaise jar usually works)
  • hot water
  • egg crate (to make ice cubes)
  • small plate
  • index card

Instructions

  1. The day before, fill all compartments of an egg crate with water and place in a freezer to make ice cubes.
  2. Add about 2 inches of very hot tap water to the jar, then cover the jar with the plate.
  3. Allow the hot water to sit in the jar for 2 or 3 minutes.
  4. Place ice cubes on the plate that is covering the jar.
  5. Record your observations on the index card.

Explanation

The cold plate causes the moisture in the warm air that has been heated by the hot water inside of the jar to condense and form water droplets. These droplets should be dripping from the bottom of the plate inside of the jar. This is the same thing that happens in the atmosphere as warm, moist air rises and meets colder temperatures high in the atmosphere. Water vapor condenses and forms precipitation that falls to the Earth as rain, sleet, hail, or snow.

Make a Tornado

Supplies

  • 10 x 12 inch piece of wood
  • either glue gun or Superglue
  • .010 inch thick vinyl sheets 9 x 10 inches in length and width (2 sheets)
  • small hand-held fan
  • small cup or deli dish
  • a 7 inch across clear plastic plant saucer
  • water
  • dry ice
  • gloves

Instructions

  1. Cut out a hole measured 2 inches across in the center of the plant saucer.
  2. Glue cup to the center of the piece of wood with the top of the cup facing up.
  3. Glue one of the vinyl sheets onto one side of the cup, then glue the rest of the sheet in a half circle around but not touching the cup.
  4. Glue the second sheet onto the other side of the cup, then glue the rest of the sheet in a half circle around but not touching the cup. The 2 sheets must overlap but not touch.
  5. Add a half of a cup of water to the cup.
  6. Using gloves, place a few small pieces of dry ice into the cup.
  7. Quickly place the plant saucer upside down on top of the 2 sheets of vinyl.
  8. Turn on the fan and place it in the hole in the saucer to draw the air up.
  9. A tornado should start to spin.

Explanation

 

The whirling fan at the top creates a spinning "updraft" or vortex. This pulls air in at the bottom of the container and out at the top of the plant saucer. Dry ice is made of frozen carbon dioxide. It is very cold. As it warms, it turns from a solid (ice) into a gas. It cools the air above it, causing a little cloud of water vapor to condense from the air. The little cloud enters the updraft, allowing us to see the vortex. It looks like a little tornado!

This is concept is not completely understood by scientists, but one way the rotation appears to happen is when winds at two different altitudes blow at different speeds creating wind shear. For example, a wind at 1000 feet above the surface might blow at 5 miles mph. A wind at 5000 feet might blow at 25 mph. This causes a horizontal rotating column of air.

If this column gets caught in a supercell updraft, the updraft tightens the spin, and it speeds up. This is much like when a skater's spin speeds up, (much like a skater spins faster when the arms are pulled in close to the body). A funnel cloud is created.The rain and hail in the thunderstorm cause the funnel to touch down. This creates a tornado.

Make Lightning

Supplies

  • styrofoam plate
  • thumbtack
  • new pencil
  • aluminum pie pan
  • small piece of wool fabric

Instructions

  1. From the bottom, push the thumbtack through the center of the pie pan.
  2. Push the eraser end of the pencil into the thumbtack so that the pencil becomes a handle to lift the pan.
  3. Put the styrofoam plate upside down on a table.
  4. Rub the bottom of the plate with the wool for one minute (make sure to rub with some pressure and at a rapid pace).
  5. Pick up the pie pan using the pencil handle and place it on top of the upside down plate.
  6. Turn off the lights, and touch the pie pan with your finger. You should feel a static jolt and see a spark. If not, then rub the bottom of the plate with the wool again and repeat steps 5 and 6.

Explanation

It's all about static electricity! Lightning happens when the negative charges (electrons) in the bottom of the cloud (and your finger) are attracted to the positive charges (protons) in the ground (and the pie pan). The resulting spark is like a mini-bolt of lightning.

The accumulation of electric charges has to be great enough to overcome the insulating properties of air. This allows a stream of negative charges to pour down toward a high point where positive charges have clustered due to the pull of the thunderhead. The connection is made and the protons rush up to meet the electrons. It is at that point that we see lightning. A bolt of lightning heats the air along its path causing it to expand rapidly. Thunder is the sound caused by rapidly expanding air.

Build a Weather Safety Kit

Supplies

  • Backpack or storage tub (to hold your supplies)
  • Water (1 gallon per person per day is recommended - should plan for 3 days)
  • Non-perishable food (can opener if including canned foods - should plan for 3 days)
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First aid supplies (bandages, ointment, disinfectant wipes, etc)
  • Tissues and paper towels/napkins
  • Toilet paper and bags with ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers (for turning off utilities)
  • Paper and pen or pencil
  • Warm blanket (recommend one for each person in your home)
  • Personal hygiene items (deodorant, tooth brush, tooth paste, mouth wash)
  • Whistle to signal for help

Instructions

  1. Ask students “What is a Weather-Ready nation?” Answer - The National Weather Service’s push to prepare communities for extreme weather, water, and climate events through communication and interpretation of weather forecasts and education and awareness of weather related hazards and how to protect yourself from such hazards.
  2. Ask students what extreme weather events we can face in east Tennessee, and brainstorm ideas for how to prepare for them.
  3. In groups, build a preparedness kit with the items listed above.
  4. Show the completed kits to the teacher.
  5. Discuss possible locations to store the kits in a household to make them accessible for emergencies.
  6. Allow students to take their kits home.

 

Dangerous Weather Relay

Supplies

  • gloves
  • hats
  • raingear
  • coats
  • First-aid kit
  • bottled water
  • matches
  • radios
  • cell phones
  • books

Instructions

  1. There are 6 scenarios: Tornado, Hurricane, Flood, Blizzard, Heat, Cold.
  2. Spread all of the supplies in an open area such as a large lawn or gymnasium.
  3. Divide students into 6 teams.
  4. Ask each team to line up horizontally across from the bank of supplies.
  5. Give each team 1 of the 6 scenarios by writing it on a piece of paper or card and handing it to the team.
  6. In relay style, have a team run across to the supply bank and pick up the supply(s) that would be useful for their given dangerous weather scenario, and quickly return to the starting line allowing the next team to go. Certain teams will pick up more than 1 item, and some items could be used for more than 1 of the scenarios. When items run out, swap scenarios among the teams and re-distribute the supply bank to start again.*Note: this activity can be played in many different ways and can be improvised to maximize the fun and learning.*

 

 

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