Summer, especially on the Prairies, can be an amazing time for weather watching. The summer months can bring everything: thunderstorms, floods, hail and tornadoes. Whether you’re a dedicated storm chaser or a casual observer, there can be a lot to see in summer.
The most common weather we can see in summer (beyond our warm, sunny days) are thunderstorms. Mild thundershowers can bring short bursts of rain, lightning and thunder and they aren’t particularly dangerous.
Thunderstorms—the ones that we’re often warned about by Environment Canada—can be a different story. Usually over in about an hour, they can bring strong winds, hail, heavy rain, flooding, dangerous lightning and even tornadoes. However, sometimes regions can experience a series of thunderstorms which can last for several hours.
Lightning and Thunder
Lightning happens when the air is charged with electricity during a thunderstorm, and it travels at about 40,000 km per SECOND. Thunder is the sound of lightning—it’s the shockwave from the air around the lightning flash. The louder the thunder, and the shorter the period between the flash and the sound, the closer you are to the lightning.
Lightning is dangerous—hence the saying “when thunder roars, go indoors.” When you hear thunder, take shelter. If you’re outside and not near shelter, stay away from trees, poles, fences, metal and open water. Aim for a low-lying area.
Watch this video to learn how to Make Your Own Lightning.
Beyond lightning, thunder and rain, thunderstorms can also bring another weather phenomenon—hail. Typically occurring anytime between May and October, hail can cause severe property and agricultural damage. Hailstones can be as small as a frozen raindrop, or the size of a grapefruit (ouch!).
Hail forms when frozen water droplets collide with moisture and each other, growing larger. Hail falls when the hailstones are too heavy for the storm’s energy.
Watch this video to learn how to Make Your Own Hail.
Tornadoes might be the most frightening weather phenomenon we can experience in the summer. They are rotating columns of strong wind that can cause significant damage to property and serious injuries to people and animals. They can move fast, and can be strong enough to toss cars, flatten structures and tear trees from the ground.
Tornadoes can occur in severe thunderstorms. Warning signs of possible tornado activity can include extremely dark skies, sometimes with green or yellow-looking clouds. Tornadoes are also loud, often rumbling or whistling.
If you’re in a tornado-warned storm or see signs of potential tornado activity, take shelter immediately—preferably in a basement or an interior room with no windows. If you’re in a mobile home or car, take shelter in a building with a strong foundation or a low-lying area.
- Two plastic bottles (try different sizes to make your tornado grow or shrink)
- Duct tape or a tornado adapter
- Food colouring (optional)
- Fill a bottle just over halfway with water (and add your food colouring, if using).
- Use the duct tape or tornado adapter to connect your two bottles (placing the empty bottle on the top).
- Flip the attached bottles so the bottle with water is now on top.
- Move the bottle on top rapidly in a circular motion. After a few seconds, you should see the water begin swirling and a tornado form. Now let’s enjoy the tornado as it moves through your bottles!
Try experimenting with more or less water. Does the amount of water in your bottle have any effect on the size and speed of the tornado? Like a tornado, the water moves in a circular motion, which is called the centripetal force—an inward-facing force that pulls an object or liquid toward the center of its circular path. This movement creates a vortex. In the real world, this connects the storm cloud to the earth’s surface to make a tornado.
Check out more science experiments you can do at home!
Whatever the summer weather brings, stay safe. Prairie weather can change quickly so check the forecast before venturing out and be prepared for whatever weather can come your way.