Have you ever looked up into the summer sky and watched a small, harmless cloud somehow grow bigger and bigger until it became a ferocious thunderstorm!? This thunderstorm science experiment is a great way for kids to discover how clouds turn into thunderstorms!
Get more fun Weather Experiments for Kids here!
My 5-year-old daughter loves the weather just like me and it was soo much fun watching her learn about thunderstorms and cold fronts with this experiment!
Thunderstorm Science Experiment
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How To Make A Thunderstorm Simulation
- Make some blue ice cubes.
- Fill a clear rectangular container with room temperature water.
- Set blue ice cubes and red food coloring in the water.
- The blue and red water will collide and create a cold front where thunderstorms form.
Step 1: Make Some Blue Ice Cubes
We will need to make some ice cubes for this experiment, so it’s a good idea to do this step ahead of time to give the ice plenty of time to form.
Go ahead and fill an ice cube tray with water and then put one drop of blue food coloring into each slot in the tray.
You only need about 5 blue ice cubes, so just put coloring in 5 slots in the tray if you don’t want to waste your food coloring.
My daughter was having wayyy too much fun with the food coloring and she used a little more than we needed (as you can see in the picture below).
Then use a spoon to mix the food coloring up in the tray and then stick the tray into the freezer.
Step 2: Fill A Clear Rectangular Container With Water
When the blue ice cubes are frozen, you are ready to move on to the next step by filling a clear rectangular container with room temperature water.
I used a clear glass casserole dish, but you could also use a large plastic Tupperware dish too.
The important thing is that the container is transparent and rectangular so that you can see the thunderstorm science experiment in action!
Now pour enough room temperature water into the container to fill it about 3/4 of the way to the top.
The water needs to be at room temperature for the experiment to work properly. Too hot or too cold and our thunderstorm experiment will fail!
Step 3: Set Blue Ice Cubes and Red Food Coloring in The Water
Now gently place 4 or 5 blue ice cubes in the water on one side of the container.
At the same time drop several drops of red food coloring into the water on the opposite side of the container.
It might be helpful to have a second person helping with this part to make it easier to put the ice cubes and red coloring in at the same time.
I had my daughter help me out and she loved being involved in the experiment!
Step 4: The Blue and Red Water Collide and Create a Cold Front Where Thunderstorms Can Form
Watch and enjoy as the beginning stages of a cold front start to form in the water.
First, you will see blue water melting from the ice cubes and sinking to the bottom while spreading towards the red water on the other side.
Then the blue and the red water will collide in the center of the container.
The colder, blue water is denser than the warmer, red water, so the blue water will stay on the bottom while forcing the red water to move up towards the top of the water!
This thunderstorm science experiment is a great simulation of how cold fronts and thunderstorms work in the wonderful world of weather!
The blue water represents the cold and dense air behind a cold front that forces the warmer, less dense air ahead of the cold front to rise.
As warm, moist air rises into the sky along a cold front, it cools and condenses into clouds and can eventually grow into thunderstorms!
How Does A Thunderstorm Form?
Thunderstorms often form along cold fronts where a warm, moist air mass rises ahead of a colder, drier air mass moving in behind a cold front.
But thunderstorms can also form without a cold front around as long as there is another type of lifting mechanism in the atmosphere.
Lifting mechanisms refer to areas in the atmosphere that force air to rise from the ground up high into the atmosphere.
These include things like wind blowing up and over a mountain, or an area where wind directions collide and the air has nowhere to go but up!
The bottom line is that all thunderstorms need three things to develop: warm and moist air, something to lift that air high into the atmosphere, and cold, dry air high above the warm air.
If the warm and moist air can rise into the much colder and drier air above, the air that was warm and moist will begin to cool down.
Colder air doesn’t hold as much moisture as warm air, so the moistture (water vapor) condenses into tiny water droplets to form a cloud.
Learn more about the cloud-making process with this Cloud in a Bottle Experiment With Rubbing Alcohol experiment.
If the process of warm air rising into colder air above continues for long enough, clouds will eventually grow large enough to create rain and even thunderstorms.
Depending on the strength of the thunderstorms, they can pack a punch with lightning, thunder, rain, hail, and even sometimes tornadoes!