BOOMbox at Home: Earthquakes, Floods, and Tornadoes

Large tornado touches down on rural farm area.

During spring, we're exploring the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. This week, we’re exploring earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes.


Try stomping your feet on the ground. It seems like a solid surface, but you are actually standing on a thin sheet of rock floating on the surface of liquid magma. These sheets of rock are the tectonic plates in the earth’s outer crust, and they move, sometimes causing earthquakes. Watch what causes earthquakes

Earthquakes are dangerous because they create seismic waves, which are waves of energy that travel through the earth and cause it to shake. Learn more about seismic waves and how seismic waves cause damage. When the earth shakes, the buildings and structures on top of the earth also shake. To see what this looks like, try building a house out of blocks, LEGO pieces, or gingerbread. Put it on top of a flat surface like a chair or a small table and shake the surface around. What happens to your house? Does it also shake around? If you build houses of different shapes and sizes, will they shake in different ways? If you want to investigate more, watch a TED-Ed video about why buildings fall in earthquakes.

Earthquakes are also dangerous because seismic waves can turn solid ground into a fluid in a process called liquefaction. You can see liquefaction in action by shaking a bottle of ketchup. Ketchup can seem like a solid when you want to squirt it out of the bottle, but becomes runny after you apply stress by shaking it. Feel the effect of different types of surfaces by putting your house on top of a tray full of jello. Does the house react differently if you shake the tray of jello? What if you put it on top of a tray of Rice Krispies, or a tray full of flour? See what happens when Science Max tries this experiment. Will you get a different result than Science Max? 


Skokie is built on what used to be a wetland, an area where the soil holds a lot of water. This means that it is more likely to flood when it rains a lot. Floods happen when there is too much water for the ground to soak up, and the water creates bigger and bigger puddles on the ground. Watch and learn how floods happen and what to do if there is a flood. Floods can happen when there is a lot of rain, or even when humans make mistakes, like the one that led to the Chicago River leaking into the underground basements and Pedway of downtown Chicago in 1992. 

Floods cause a lot of damage by blocking off roads and causing people to lose their homes and jobs. Flood damage is often worse in communities that have less money to improve their drains and sewer systems. Look at an interactive urban flood susceptibility index map to see which parts of Illinois are most affected by floods. The danger posed by floods is why it’s important to keep an eye on how much rain falls from the sky. You can measure how much rain your home gets by making a rain gauge out of an old plastic bottle.


Tornadoes are violently rotating currents of air that stretch from a thunderstorm in the sky all the way to the ground. Watch and learn more about how tornadoes are created and what they can do.

Tornadoes are one example of a vortex that can form in the natural environment. You can explore vortexes in the safety of your own home by creating a tornado in a bottle. You’ll need two plastic water bottles of any size, a metal washer, and some duct tape. Follow the tornado in a bottle science experiment instructions and learn a bit more why Kansas sees so many tornadoes each year. You can also make a vortex by swirling a jar filled with water and oil, just like Caitlin and Desi do in their STEAM Engines video all about tornadoes.

Scientist of the Week

Natural disasters are dangerous, and there is a risk that they will become even more dangerous because of climate change. This means that it’s important for people to help each other by combating climate change. One person who has been fighting against climate change is Greta Thunberg. Greta started campaigning for action against climate change when she was 15, and now she is using her voice to speak to politicians about what each country can do to reverse climate change. Greta was named as Time Magazine's Person of the Year in 2019.

You can learn more about climate change by checking out our Climate SOS and Hope for the Planet book lists. If you’re ready for action, watch a video with advice on how to become an activist. You can also see if your school has a climate change or STEM club that you can join.

Written by Veena, Eli, and Michelle.