Cubs science activity – storm in a teacup

This activity will help you understand energy by creating your own tornado. Email a picture of your tornado to and we will upload them to the website.

You will need:

  • Washing up liquid
  • Access to water
  • Jars with lids
  • Sand

Talk about tornadoes

  1. What do you know about tornadoes? What are they? Do we get them in this country? Where are most of the big ones found? How fast can they go?

Tornadoes are a tightly spinning wind. They’re formed when warm, humid air collides with cold, dry air. We get them in the UK, but they’re so small that they rarely cause much damage. Most of the big ones are found in the USA, where there are around 1,000 a year – the ones in the USA can be very destructive. Tornadoes can go at about 300mph, and travel about six miles in 10 minutes.

  1. What do you think will happen with the tornadoes you will make in jars. Will you be able to see them? How big will they be? How strong?

 Mix up a storm

  1. Take a clean empty jar. Fill the jar with water until it’s around three quarters full.
  2. Add one drop of washing-up liquid to the water.
  3. Add a sprinkle of sand. Most tornadoes are transparent – they get their grey colour from the dust and mud they pick up from the ground. We’re adding the sand to be able to see ours.
  4. Screw the lid on the jar tightly to make sure it doesn’t leak.
  5. Turn the jar upside down and shake it vigorously in a circular motion.
  6. Turn the jar back up the right way and put it down on a flat surface. Watch your storm brew, swirl, and dissipate.


This activity is about learning new skills. Did you learn anything new about tornadoes today? Tornadoes are really powerful but they only last for a short time. How did our experiment demonstrate that?

Scientists are trying to harness the huge energy stored within a tornado (estimated to be 200 times the electricity-generating capacity of the entire world). How could that change our lives? (It would be a massively powerful renewable energy source, meaning we could be less reliant on fossil fuels, which are causing climate change.)


This mixture should not be ingested. Dispose of it by using it to water plants.