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The weather has been in the news this weekend, so it might be a perfect time to build a weather station.

Background:

Because the weather changes from time to time and place to place, scientists use instruments to measure the weather conditions. They often group the instruments at one location, called a weather station. The scientists use the information they collect from many stations to make weather forecasts.

To make a weather station at home, consider the making or buying some of the following equipment:

  • Outdoor thermometer to measure temperature
  • Anemometer to measure wind speed
  • Wind or weather vane to record wind direction
  • Rain gauge to measure precipitation
  • Barometer to measure pressure
  • Hygrometer to measure amount of moisture in the air

Barometer

How to make an easy homemade barometer.

Thermometer

You may make a thermometer to see how one works, but you will probably need an outdoor thermometer to be able to take reliable readings outside.

Watch the video to see how to make a simple thermometer in this post about water and thermometers.

Water temperature science has more information about thermometers, too.

A Simple Weather Vane

Gather for each child:

  • A plastic drinking straw (body of vane) – straight, not the bendy kind
  • A pencil with a sturdy eraser (support the vane)
  • Index card, piece of file folder or heavy construction paper (for tail of vane)
  • Dressmakers pin
  • Scissors
  • Tape (optional)
  • Markers and/or crayons
  • Container about the size of a small flowerpot, or old flowerpot
  • Soil, pebbles or similar material to hold pencil upright in the container
  • Compass to find north, east, west and south, only one needed to share

Cut two slits across one end of the straw, about one inch long.

Make a decorative tail for the vane. Cut the index card or paper into a weather-related shape, such as a raindrop, a sun or a flat-bottomed cloud. Make it about two inches in length. Have the children color their decoration. Slip the midline of the tail into the slits in the straw. If it doesn’t fit tightly, add a bit of tape to keep it in place. If you plan to use it for an extended period outside, you might want to consider laminating the tail.

Fill the container at least part way with soil or pebbles. Place the pencil upright in the middle of the soil, with the eraser end up. Push into the soil until the pencil will stand up on it’s own, with the top eraser at least a few inches above the rim of the container. Add more soil as needed.

An adult will need to supervise this step for young children. Insert the dressmaker’s pin through the straw about two inches from the tail, in such a way that the fan is oriented up and down. The wind will be blowing from the side, so the tail should be positioned to catch the wind. Because the tail adds weight, the pin needs to be nearer the tail, rather than in the center, to balance. Once the pin is in place and oriented correctly, then push the pin into the top of the eraser. Blow on the weather vane to see if it can spin freely. If not, make the necessary corrections and try again.

To finish, take the weather vane outside where the wind might blow. Use the compass to determine the directions. Mark the container with north, south, east and west. Once the pot/container is marked, leave it in place. If it gets moved, be sure to correct the position with the compass. Record the wind direction as it changes over time.

Anemometer

You can easily modify the weather vane into an anemometer, which is a device to measure wind speed rather than direction. Or make another using the directions above.

Gather:

  • Weather vane and materials above
  • Large needle or sharp nail
  • Two pieces of cardboard about 1½ inches wide by about 18 inches long
  • Foil muffin tin liner cups, or bathroom-sized paper cups
  • Staples or tacks
  • Watch or timepiece with minute hand

Remove the pin/straw from the eraser, but leave the rest of the weather vane intact. Cross the two pieces of cardboard and mark the center. Cut a slit half way through the middle of each, turn one over and then slide the two pieces together. They should overlap and form an X-shape.

If you are using paper cups, cut the rims off to reduce the weight. Staple or tack the muffin cups or small paper cups to the ends of each strip of cardboard, so they are all facing the same direction, for example in a clockwise direction. These are the cups that will catch the wind and be pushed around. Chose one arm and color the cardboard with a marker. This will help you count how fast the anemometer is revolving.

An adult will need to help with this step. Take the needle or sharp nail and drive it through the center of the cardboard X in such a way that the cups will rotate around from side to side. Once the needle through, push the point into the pencil eraser as before. Blow on the muffin cups and see if they will spin. Adjust accordingly. You may have to replace the needle if it is too short, or trim up the cardboard arms. Add staples if it is out of balance. Make the hole in the center larger, if it is too tight.

Take the anemometer outside. Place on a table or other structure, so it isn’t on the ground. Count how many times the colored arm passes per minute as a measure of wind speed.

Rain Gauge

The Miami Museum of Science has easy steps for how to make a rain gauge, complete with a rain gauge ruler to print out.

Take your equipment outside at least once a day. Record the results. Check with local forecasts to see if your results match theirs. Note:  Often the official weather station is in a shed or box to prevent the equipment from being exposed to direct sunlight. How might that make their results differ from yours?

(Note: this activity has been posted on the Growing With Science website, but since I am making some modifications to the website soon, I decided to revise it and post here).

Looking for children's books? Try our growing list of weather books at Science Books for Kids.

Weather-books-for-kids

Wind, or the movement of air, can be a powerful thing. People have used the wind to do work for hundreds of years. From sailing ships to modern wind turbines, the wind has been harnessed for many useful purposes.

This week we have been investigating how air movement works with various pinwheels, windmills and propellers.

Activities:

Blowing Feathers/Streamers

You can learn about wind using a household electric fan. Be sure to remind your children about safety around fans, such as never sticking anything into the moving blades.

Gather:

  • Feathers or other lights objects, such as bits of tissue (available in craft stores)
  • Electric household Fan

Give each child a feather or piece of tissue and allow them to blow on it. Let them free explore, seeing how the feathers lift and fly as the air moves. When they are finished, turn on a fan. Allow them to drop their feather in front of the fan. Does the feather move differently? An actively working air return vent can also work if you don't have a fan. Repeat using tissue streamers, if available.

If possible, let the children try this outside when there is a breeze.

Windsocks/Streamers/Wind Chimes

Make or obtain a windsock (see windpower.org, for example)

How to make a weatherproof windsock video

and/or tie a few long streamers of cloth or ribbons to a wooden dowel
and/or make or obtain some wind chimes.

Hang the windsock, streamers or wind chimes outside. Watch them often. Discuss whether the day is windy or calm. Explain that windsocks are found at airports, The pilots need to determine the direction and strength of the wind when they take off and land the planes.

Pinwheels

There are hundreds of ways to make pinwheels on the Internet. Here is one way to make a simple pinwheel.

Gather:

  • Heavy paper, card stock or file folder
  • Pencil with eraser
  • Dressmaker's Pin
  • Drawing compass or circular pattern
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Modeling clay

Draw a circle about three inches in diameter and cut it out of the paper. Find the center of the circle. Draw a line through the center across the circle. The draw another line perpendicular through the center, creating four equal wedge or pie shapes. Now draw two more lines across the center dividing the fourths in half. You will have eight wedge shapes. Cut along each of these lines to about 1/4 inch from the center.

Have and adult place the pin through the center of the pinwheel and push into the side of the pencil eraser. The pencil will be the handle. Be careful with the pin around small children. Place the modeling clay over the sharp end of the pin to hold it in place. Now gently bend one corner down on each wedge, making sure to create the same angle with each.

pinwheel

Blow on your pinwheel or push it through the air holding the pencil. It should spin as the air hits it. Putting it in from of a fan is fun too.

Windmills

Windmills are basically pinwheels that do work of some kind. In the past windmills were used to grind grains, make paper, extract oils from seeds, and pump water, among other things. These days people are investigating many ways to generate electricity using wind.

This is a video of three example windmills. Note: the quality of the video is slightly better at the original website.

Kids can learn a great deal more about using windmills to generate electricity at Wind with Miller

If your children are interested in making a model of a windmill, Tinker Toys have some useful parts, such as hub wheels.

Helpful Resources:

Feel the Wind (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Arthur Dorros

The Wind at Work: An Activity Guide to Windmills by Gretchen Woelfle

Cool book about the history of windmills.

Tinker Toys

Twirly Pinwheels

Can you believe it? You can get a windmill at Amazon!