Doppler 9&10 STEM: Pop-Up Thunderstorms

Have you wondered how weather happens or what science is? Well, on Doppler 9&10 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) our goal is to teach you while making it more fun for the kids to learn with experiments you can do at home!

The Science

While we are heading into the fall season, showers and storms are still quite possible… especially when warm air clashes with cool air. But that is not the only ingredient for thunderstorms to

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develop. Matter of fact, explaining or forecasting where YOUR specific neighborhood will get hit it a LOT more difficult then one might think, especially when we talk about summertime pop-up thunderstorms.

It starts with the sun. As the sun rises in the morning, the ground is heated up, but not equally. For example, Traverse City heats up a lot quicker than Sault Ste Marie does simply due to the buildings. Pavement and buildings absorb more heat than trees and shrubs. Since Traverse City has more buildings it heats up quicker. This heating is known as differential heating.

Once an area has reached its Convective Temperature or the surface temperature that is needed to achieve cloud formation, clouds can form and blow up like popcorn without a frontal boundary to aid in the lift.

Our science is not advanced enough to tell you which locations will see maximum heating throughout the afternoon. There are other factors that can even prevent storms from developing altogether. Make sure you check out the next Doppler 9&10 STEM, we will dig into what prevents storms from forming.

The Experiment: Popping Popcorn! 


We will pop a few popcorn kernels in a frying pan on high heat. Each kernel will represent an air parcel that has the potential to become a thunderstorm. As the kernel (our air parcel) gets hot enough (where heating was maximized) it will pop. Recommend a lid for safety! We used a bigger lid that way some heat can escape and the lid is not fogging up and obscuring the view of the experiment.

What You Need

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  • Gas or Electric Stove
  • Sauce Pan or Frying Pan
  • Oversized Lid (For Safety!)
  • Bag of Popcorn Kernels
  • Plate
  • Spoon
  • A Parent or Guardian Should Be Present


  • Heat up your stovetop on High Heat (5 min)
  • Place your saucepan or frying pan on the stovetop
  • Grab your popcorn bag and cut it open so you can see the individual kernels
  • Separate 5-10 kernels on a plate, use a spoon to grab and separate
  • Place separated kernels into the hot pan on your stovetop
  • Hold an oversized lid over the pan… remember, you don’t want to completely cover.. it will fog up then you can’t see the popcorn pop
  • Lid is for safety!!
  • Wait 3-5 minutes and your popcorn (or storms) should start to or pop (develop)
  • Now it is time to enjoy a buttery snack and watch a movie!

Make sure you tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for a New 9&10 STEM. Send us an email at weather@9& or find us on Facebook and at Doppler 9&10 Weather Team if you have a weather question or want something in science explained! It does not have to be weather! Anything Science or math-based we’ve got you! You can always get the latest forecast on as well as interact with us on social media!

Facebook — Meteorologist Madison Ryke, and Meteorologist Austin Lowe

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Categories: Doppler 9&10 STEM, the four