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Clouds, tornado and vortices with dry ice

Use dry ice to show how clouds form. Use your hands to create upwards spinning vortices, modelling tornados. Use a bottle to make horizontally spinning vortices to model a microburst.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Chemistry: States of Matter, Properties of Materials (K-7)
Physics: Motion and Forces, Newton’s Laws, Gravity (K, 2, 6)
Earth/Space: Weather, Seasons, Climate Change (K, 1, 4, 7)
Science topic (2005 curriculum connection): 
Earth and Space Science: Air, Water and Soil (grade 2)
Earth and Space Science: Weather (grade 4)
  • dry ice in insulted container - 10 pellets/100 pellets per class
  • gloves to handle dry ice
  • black bin bag
  • masking tape
  • shallow tub
  • kettle for boiling water
  • recycled water bottle with flexible sides

Distribute black bin bags, and ask students to tape over desk.

Distribute shallow tub and bottle containing very warm water. Add dry ice (2 pellets).

The following activities can be done with more or less emphasis on the weather phenomenon they are modelling.

Ask what weather phenomenon they have made. Cloud. Water vapour in the air cools to form water droplets.
(How dry ice makes this: super cold, becomes a gas at -80°C. The water vapour in the air (from the warm water in the tub), cools and condenses among the cold CO2 gas.)

Add more dry ice and hot water to the tub, then demonstrate making tornados: hold hand flat and upright within the cloud spilling out of the tub, then lift up fast. (Too tricky for most Ks, but they like to watch.)
The spinning air mass of a tornado is called a vortex. The air rotates around the funnel shape.
A real tornadoes is one of the most powerful forces on earth - winds up to 500km/hr.
They form when warm, moist air meets cool air and they start to spin. The air spirals up into a thundercloud. The low pressure inside (from fast winds) cools the air which condenses into a cloud.

Another weather feature is also a vortex but spins in a ring: called a microburst.
A microburst is formed when cold air descends to the ground fairly fast, then hits the ground and spins away in a ring.
This kind of vortex can be modelled with a pellet of dry ice inside a little warm water in a recycled water bottle. Squeeze and release the water bottle quickly and gently. It seems to work better as the dry ice bubbling subsides a little.


Scale up the vortex to make an air cannon.

Grades tested: 
Gr K
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5
Gr 6
Gr 7
Alane Lublow
Becky Evermon
Daphne Gurney
Heather Wallace
Nellie Wong
Nina Hooker
Scott Malin
Taz Ismail
Teaching site: 
ingridscience afterschool
Tyee Elementary
Activity originally developed and delivered: 

ingridscience afterschool