Inside: Learn how to make a TB roll windsock and turn your backyard into a meteorological marvel! As always, you can expect history, explanation, science printables, video, and detailed step-by-step instructions. Get ready to be blown away!
Wind is just air in motion. But what our kids often want to know is where does the motion come from?
My own city of Chicago is located at the southeastern tip of Lake Michigan in the north of Illinois. It’s often very windy here!
According to weather scientists, in terms of the global circulation system, Chicago is sandwiched between high and low-pressure areas, which explains its high winds.
Additional factors that build our winds include the jet stream, lake breeze, and the urban heat-island effect. No wonder we are so curious about wind around here!
So what’s a Windsock?
Have you ever noticed colorful cones, resembling giant socks waving in the wind at airports? That’s windsocks, and they play a crucial role in ensuring the safe takeoff and landing of aircraft.
Because they are used to indicate the direction and strength of the wind.
A windsock is simply a piece of fabric in the shape of a cone open at both ends and attached to a mounting pole. It extends in the opposite direction from which the wind is blowing. And the straighter it is, the stronger the wind. (On the other hand, the wind vanes point in the direction the wind is blowing. Interesting, ha?).
I learned this new fact recently and am very eager to share it with you: if you see a fully extended windsock, it usually means the wind speed is 15 miles per hour or greater. So next time you are in the car, try driving at 15 miles per hour (or a bit more) with open windows and test how it feels!
In this blog post, we will explore the history and science behind windsocks and how to make one from a toilet paper roll and plastic bags.
The History of Windsocks
Windsocks have been an essential tool for a variety of industries for decades. The first windsocks were made of paper and silk in ancient China and Japan.
The ancient Romans also discovered that a tube-shaped piece of fabric captures the wind well, and used the design to create military banners that would stretch out flat against the sky, making their messages clear.
But windsocks really came into their own as aids to locomotive technologies – that is, machines that carry us from place to place. The earliest application was in sailing. The sails capture the wind and must be adjusted to catch it in just the right direction to take you where you need to go.
Ships would put up bands of fabric at the tops of sails to better gauge what the wind was up to. Responding to the wind is perhaps even more important for airplanes. They rely on pressure differences to help them lift off the ground, and if the wind is causing chaotic pressure patterns around the wings, that can make taking off difficult and even dangerous.
Even with our high-tech weather predictions and real-time storm data, it’s always a good idea to check in with the humble windsock!
How to Make a Windsock
Windsocks come in all shapes and sizes, but have you ever considered making your own custom windsock? We’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how to make a windsock that’s uniquely suited to your needs.
What you need:
Toilet paper roll
Plastic bags (or tissue paper)
Glue gun, glue, or tape
(Optional) Paint and glitter
What to do:
1. Cut a toilet paper roll in half
Cut the toilet paper roll in half to avoid your windsock being too heavy to lift up with the wind. I don’t know how windy it gets where you live, and I want your experiment to succeed. You can use the whole paper roll if you live in a very, very windy area.
2. Paint Toilet Paper Roll
You can skip this step, but we think painting toilet paper rolls is so much fun! Today, we went with an orange color. And while the paint was still wet, we added golden glitter (it sparkles so magically in the sun!). Allow the paint to dry.
3. Cut plastic bags into strips
Cut plastic bags into long strips. Use tissue paper or ribbons instead if you’ve gone entirely plastic bag-free in your home or classroom.
Our strips are about 12 inches (or 30 centimeters) long, and we were very happy with the length. But you can pick whatever size works for you.
4. Attach strips to the inside of the tube
Glue the plastic bag strips to the bottom of the toilet paper roll. Just squirt a bit of hot glue, and then use scissors or a pencil to push the strips down. You can also use tape instead of glue.
Alternatively, you can use a hole punch to make a row of holes along the bottom of the roll and tie the strips to them.
5. Punch holes in the top of the tube
Use a hole punch to punch three holes around the top of the roll.
6. Thread some string through the holes
Cut three pieces of string and tie one end of each string to the 3 holes you made in the previous step.
Then knot all three strings together.
7. … And the best part!
Hang it outside and watch it flutter in the wind. Which way is the wind blowing today?
The Science Behind Windsocks
Did you know that windsocks can be used to not only measure wind speed and direction but also predict changes in weather patterns?
A windsock is a simple machine, but powerful if you know how to read it. It shows you what direction the wind is coming from, and how strong that wind is.
So, what does that have to do with the weather?
Storms result from different air masses running into each other. Air isn’t just nothing – it’s a collection of gases and particles and water vapor that exerts a downward pressure on the earth.
When the sun hits the earth and warms it up, it also heats the air just above the earth, which wants to rise, immediately creating an interaction between the normal downward pressure and that upward force.
As the energy builds and the air masses start bumping together, water vapor gets stuck in between, builds up, and then rains back down once it gets too heavy. This would block the sun and cool down the ground, so everything calms down again.
But if you also have a steady wind coming across the landscape, watch out! The wind blows the stormcloud into a diagonal shape. This means that even when the rain falls, it’s blown ahead of the cloud.
On the other side, the sun is still shining, producing more hot air, which rises and keeps feeding the storm more energy. So instead of just raining itself dry, the cloud keeps moving, and keeps raining, and getting stronger and stronger!
What is the moral of the story? More wind means stronger storms. And if you suddenly see a strong wind arrive and tighten your windsock, that’s often the front end of the storm system coming your way… cool, right?