Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

“How do we reset the storm glass?”

Feathery crystals at the bottom of a storm glass

It’s been weeks now and those crystals haven’t changed a bit. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Last week, we tested our storm glass to see whether the crystals were forming (or dissolving) in response to changes in temperature. Short answer: Yes.

But as you’ll remember, at the end of the experiment we were left with a pretty thick collection of grainy crystals at the bottom of the glass. This collection persisted for at least a week after the storm glass was back in its regular spot in our office.

Frankly, it made me worry a bit that we’d broken it. The ever-practical Nine-Year-Old suggested that we try to reset it.

What does it mean to reset a storm glass?

In this case, we mean turning the liquid in the glass completely clear, and then returning it to its home environment to see what happens.

How do you reset a storm glass? 

Since the crystals formed at cooler temperatures and dissolved at higher ones, we decided a steady application of high heat was called for.  Mommyo ruled out using fire, so we decided to try using a hair dryer instead.

Our Hypothesis

If we apply a steady source of heat to the storm glass for long enough, all of the crystals will dissolve, effectively resetting the storm glass for use in future experiments.

Our Equipment

The equipment requirements for this experience were pretty straight-forward. To conduct it, we needed:

  • The storm glass itself
  • Thermometer
  • Digital camera to record crystal formations
  • Mommyo’s hair dryer

Step 1: Photograph the storm glass at the beginning of the experiment.

Those giant fern crystals were so pretty I almost canceled the experiment this morning outright. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Those giant fern crystals were so pretty, I almost canceled the experiment this morning outright. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Step 2: Apply a steady source of heat to the storm glass.

Plan A: Use a hair dryer to apply a steady source of heat to the storm glass.

This didn’t work at all. The crystal formation barely budged, Mommyo quickly tired of holding the hair dryer, and The Nine-Year-Old got bored.

We needed a better plan.

Plan B: Set the storm glass up in front of the space heater in the kitchen. Have The Nine-Year-Old sit in the kitchen monitoring the storm glass while eating a snack and reading a book. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Although the space heater was only set to 73F, our thermometer told us that the space heater warmed the air around the storm glass to 85F.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Step 3: After 15 minutes, the crystals were almost gone, but not quite, so The Nine-Year-Old reset the timer for 2 minutes.

The Results: 

After 17 minutes in front of the space heater, all of the crystals had dissolved. So we returned the storm glass to its home in the office.

Success! (Photo: Shala Howell)

Success! (Photo: Shala Howell)

All seemed lovely, until Mommyo walked into the office two hours later to write up this experiment and found this.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Oops. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Nine-Year-Old and I had expected crystals to form when the storm glass cooled, but neither of us had expected anything this dramatic. We thought it would take a couple of days for crystals to show up, and that when they did, they’d be in the lovely fern shapes we’d had this morning.

In hindsight, though, perhaps we should have expected this.  After all, we knew from our earlier experiment that the crystals form in response to drops in temperature. By turning off the space heater and moving the still-warm storm glass to the office shelf to cool, we were effectively lowering its ambient temperature nearly as rapidly as that day we set the storm glass outside the window in 29F weather.

So have we broken it now? 

Broken being a relative term, of course, given the faulty predictive capabilities of our storm glass in its best days.

I guess what I really mean is, will our storm glass ever have enough room it in again for the lovely ferns to form? I certainly hope so. I miss those ferns.

All we can do now, though, is wait a few days and see what happens. We’ll keep you posted.

Photo of a Jane Austen action figure posed on a bookshelf next to the no longer working storm glass.

Inquiring Janes want to know: “Did we break it?” (Photo: Shala Howell)

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10 Responses to ““How do we reset the storm glass?””

  1. RingWyrmAuthor

    If you put it outside for a week or so it should re-equilibrate to the cycle of local weather conditions. Keep in mind that chemistry is slower at cold temperatures, so it may take some time. At worst, leave it outside for the next year. The cycle through summer and back to winter should fix everything.


  2. MaidenMN

    I’ve had my storm glass for years. It never turns clear. It also never has wispy fern-like threads. It never has. In the winter, there’s just a large glob of crystals on the bottom of the tube, and in summer, there’s a large glob of crystals in the top of the tube. I’ve reset it by placing the tube into a shallow pan of pre-boiled water to evenly heat it and melt the crystals, then once it’s cool enough to touch, I shake it vigorously to make sure the solution is well mixed. Those are the two results. So, according to the “forecast”, it’s either always snowing, all day every day, in winter, or always thunderstorming in summer. Apparently there are no clear skies, regular rain or wind. It lives on my desk in front of a window, which is usually open in summer. I don’t think I can safely place it outside where I live (MN) because the winters are extremely cold (up to -40F). The solution would probably freeze and break the glass. So, I rely on my Davis weather station that’s placed on my roof, instead. I think it’s just a tad more accurate.



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