Seasons of Southwest Michigan

Miniature version of a tornado


by Ned Kahn

It’s a user-friendly, up-close-and-personal encounter with a miniature version of a tornado! A tornado is a strong, rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderhead, or cumulonimbus cloud, to the ground. The most dangerous of these clouds form supercell thunderstorms or squall line thunderstorms that produce heavy rain, hail, and deadly winds, including tornadoes, as well as lightning.

Tornadoes have always fascinated us. They are powerful reminders of weather systems against which we have no control. While advanced technology allows weather bureaus to warn the public of severe weather, it is not possible to predict an actual touchdown. On May 13,1980 a tornado smashed through downtown Kalamazoo causing 5 deaths and a great deal of destruction. A number of downtown buildings were damaged, and Bronson Park changed dramatically when many of its old trees were uprooted.

The exhibit shows some of the elements that create a “twister” or tornado. It uses a fog machine and fans to demonstrate a vortex, or rotating cloud. Water is vibrated into tiny droplets that form a mist that is then caught in the updraft created by the fan located on top, while other air currents coming from the four posts cause the mist to spiral, creating the funnel-shaped cloud. Visitors notice something different about this funnel cloud, though – it’s upside down!