Make a Thunderstorm!
Lightning occurs during ALL thunderstorms. But how do thunderstorms form? In this activity, you will learn about the basics of thunderstorm formation!
What you need:
- Clear, plastic container (size of shoe box)
- Red food coloring
- Ice cubes made with blue food coloring
What to do:
- Ask an adult to help you with this activity.
- Grab your plastic container and fill it two-thirds of the way full with lukewarm water.
- Allow the water to sit for one minute.
- Take a blue ice cube and place it at one end of the container.
- At the other end of the container (opposite of the blue ice cube), add three drops of red food coloring to the water.
- Observe what happens.
You will notice that the blue, cold water from the ice cube sinks to the bottom while the red, warm water rises. In this experiment, the blue water represents a cold air mass and the red water represents a warm, unstable air mass. An air mass is a large body of air that has similar temperature and moisture levels.
Rising warm air and sinking cold air play an important role in thunderstorm formation. On a hot summer day, the sun heats the Earth’s surface. The warm surface of the Earth heats the air just above it. That warm air then begins to rise from the Earth’s surface. A thunderstorm forms when that warm air is forced up by an approaching cold front (a cooler air mass). The rising air eventually condenses and forms towering cumulonimbus clouds, or thunderclouds.
Activity inspired by the National Weather Service. Image courtesy of UCAR.