Louisville WaterWorks Museum Virtual Activities - Tornadoes

Build a Tornado in a Bottle

Welcome to our new series Louisville Water Works! Each week we will post a new video with a lesson and an at-home challenge. We will also share directions for challenges and activities that relate to each topic. 

Week 1: Tornadoes! 

History of the 1890 Tornado

The following is an first-hand account of what happened at the Original Pump Station on River Road in 1890:  “About the hour of 8:30 P.M., on Thursday, March 27th, 1890, tornado struck station and in less time than fifteen seconds the tower and stand-pipe were a wreck, all the machinery stopped, and disaster and silence prevailed.

First, an ordinary gust of wind, which manifested itself through the rattling window-sash of the engine-house; second, a furious storm in a chorus whose piping notes were so shrill and sharp as to carry terror instead of melody; third, a simultaneous crashing  of the western windows of the engine-house, and the dropping of the heavy plungers of both engines and striking heavily upon their check, arresting, or safety beams; and, fourth, the springing of each engineer for his engine, as a man leaps for life, and preventing it from making a second drop, in which latter, unopposed by the weight of a water column, destruction of both engines was impending.”

When the pumps were silenced, the Crescent Hill Reservoir was partially filled with 65 million gallons of water—enough to last just six days. To prevent a water famine, customers were asked to conserve, and water was cut off to elevators, distilleries, breweries, other manufacturers, and street sprinkling hydrants. These drastic measures helped. Five days later, on April 1, the reservoir still held 27 million gallons of water, but this was estimated to last three and a half days, so Louisville Water needed the pumping station back online—and soon. 

Challenge: Build a Tornado in a Bottle


-2 empty, clear soft drink or water bottles. Or this activity can be done with one bottle as well. 

-A “vortex connector”, or a metal washer and duct tape 

-A pitcher of Louisville Pure Tap

-Glitter, pepper, spices, beads or another visible item to sprinkle in the water.


1. Remove the tops of your liter bottles and cut the plastic ring that is left around the neck of the bottle.

2. Attach the “vortex connector” or place a metal washer on top of one of the bottles.

3. Fill one of the plastic bottles three quarters full.

4. Add in as much glitter as you want. The glitter provides a great visual representation of a tornado’s water droplets and debris.

5. Connect the bottles together. Either by screwing on the top bottle to the “cortex connector” or with duct tape. If you are using one bottle, screw the lid on as tight as possible.

6. Turn your bottom bottle up and quickly rotate the top in a clockwise motion for 15-20 seconds.

Are you a visual learner? Check out this video(link is external) to see the Louisville Water team in action!

Activity: Writing Prompt

If you lived in Louisville in 1890 at the time of the tornado, how would the lack of drinking water affect you and your family? How would it affect you today 130 years later?

Share you work with us! Send your projects to zornrental@lwcky.com(link sends e-mail) or tag us on social @LouWaterTowerPark.