Hurricanes are a natural occurrence that most people associate with destruction and devastation. While hurricanes are rightly considered natural disasters, they are also fascinatingly complex storm systems. Students in various grade levels can learn about the different elements that play a factor in determining the size, duration and damage caused by hurricanes through science projects and experiments.
Hurricane in a Bottle
Students in kindergarten through second grade can complete a project that allows them to see the fast, swirling vortex motion of a hurricane first hand. For this project, students will need a pencil and paper to keep records, a timer, a large plastic soda bottle filled with water and a container large enough to hold the water from the bottle. Working in pairs or small groups, have students record how long it takes to empty the bottle into the container. Next, have them refill and empty the bottle, this time swirling the bottle in a clockwise motion as they pour the water out, noting that the water drained more quickly when they formed a vortex in the bottle.
The Eye of the Storm
Older elementary school students will enjoy a simple science project that demonstrates the long, vertical tube of almost motionless air in the middle of a hurricane, knows as the eye. For this project, students will need a 2-quart plastic bowl three-fourths full of water, scissors, string, a ruler with at least one hole punched in it (such as the type designed for a three-ring binder), a paper clip, tape, pepper and a long-handled wooden spoon. Students should secure the paper clip to one end of the string and then thread the free end through the hole in the ruler and tape it down. Have students add pepper to the water and then make the water swirl by stirring it with the spoon. While the water is swirling, students can suspend the paper clip in the center of the spiral (the eye) and observe the lack of motion.
High Wind, High Waves
Students in the middle school grades can complete a science project that addresses how wind speed and water heights affect the height of ocean waves during hurricanes. For this experiment, groups of students need water, a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, a flexible straw, duct tape, a ruler, a recording sheet and a pencil. Students can mimic varying wind speeds by blowing into the straw, which should be bent and secured to the dish with the long end just above water level and the short end pointing up. Using the ruler, students can record the wave heights created by varying levels of breath. They can also compare wave heights created by winds in water of different depths by securing the straw higher and lower in the dish.
Make a Storm Surge
High school students can create a hurricane project that shows how storm surges affect low-lying coastal areas using a model beach area, a block of wood and a hair dryer. Have students fill half of a long plastic container with sand and carve a river and several tidal creeks and marshes, moistening the sand if necessary to allow for molding. At the mouth of the river, students should use some sand to create an oval-shaped barrier island several inches from the empty side of the container, where the ocean will go. Students can add small model houses, cars and people along the river and on the island. After slowly adding water to the ocean side of the container — making sure to add enough to surround the island and enter the river — students can re-create a storm surge using the wood block, hair dryer and added water to replicate the wind, tides and added rain that occur during storm surges.
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