Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cold Weather Science: Frozen Water Balloons

So...I saw a photo posted on Facebook where a friend had made "giant" marbles by using balloons, food coloring and water.

Giant being a relative term here…they were giant compared to regular marbles; not gialt compared to people.

I’m sure you understand (you being astute and all), but did want to clarify for you…just in case your brain is as frozen as my fingers.

These giant marbles looked really cool (I’m such a wordsmith, ain’t I?) and it appeared that they had fun rolling them all across their front lawn.

Well, because I don't need no stinkin' directions, I thought, "Hey that looks like fun...I can surely do that!" 

And off I went to collect my balloons and food coloring.

Actually, it didn't take me long at all because they were in the same cabinet.

But I digress.

I took my supplies into the laundry room, where I pulled out a balloon, added a few drops of food coloring (I, of course, didn't know how many drops to use in relationship to the water, because I hadn't bothered to Google this in any way…are you all shocked by that? I am a little bit...) and stretched the mouth of the balloon over the faucet. 

It’s at this point in the action in which I got a little nervous.

As anyone who has ever filled water balloons knows: they can be somewhat temperamental, at best. When I have taken on such a task to create an arsenal for my children, I am undoubtedly the one who is soaked more so than the warriors themselves.

I am glad to say that I have since passed that baton (and balloon) on to them...if they want to have the war, they will fill the balloons.

I’m so tough.

Anyway...I was in my laundry room. Which was relatively clean. And had clean clothes hanging around to dry.

As well as coats and hats and gloves and other such outdoors-in-winter paraphernalia.

And I was filling balloons full of food coloring (which, if you've ever gotten food coloring dye on clothing, you know it doesn't come out easily...if at all. It's difficult enough to remove the stains from your skin, let alone fabric).

You can surely see the reason for my pause.

But being of a tenacious fiber, the pause was only temporary and then I continued.

This wouldn’t be much of a story if I stopped right there.

I am well-aware that it wouldn’t be the first time that I presented you with “not much of a story” but I do try to deliver if and when it at all possible.

The precipice of discovery spurred me on.

I’m not really sure what that means.

So…one by one I filled them. I decided early one that 5 balloons was about all my nerves could handle.

And apparently five was one too many because my fifth one sprang a leak and began shooting out water like a newborn baby boy.

That’s not a visual you thought you’d have today, is it?

Fortunately, I had a cloth ready for such an event (just like in the diapering, right?) and was able to position it to shoot into the drain; because I know you were concerned, the majority of the laundry room was salvaged.

Carefully I carried them one by one (in a bowl, just in case they broke during transport…I was kind of thinking ahead) out to the snow.

I was actually fearful that the hard-packed icy snow would pop them and I’d have food coloring all over my deck once the snow melted. But they didn’t pop. In fact, they snuggled right down into the snow.

And there they sat…for much longer than I intended, because they PBA weren’t all that excited about them.

It was my experiment, to be quite honest.

We’d already done the cold water vs boiling water experiment to see which one freezes faster.

I’ll spare you the effort…it’s the boiling water. Very cool (pardon the pun) to see in person…and I could post one of about a million Youtube videos to show you. But I’ll leave that Googling effort to you.

Plus, like I said, it’s best live and in the flesh…so if you can, do it.

And we’re back to the story…the PBA were all tapped out with "cold weather science" by then.

But I forged ahead. That will surprise no one.

I actually wasn’t planning on it being a science “experiment” but something strange did happen during the freezing process and I do not know why. Here’s to hoping and praying that my friend CM (formerly CA)...who knows just about everything…reads my post today and can answer this conundrum.

This was after the yellow one had already been moved....and pay no attention to the steak knife sticking out of the snow; my 12yo thought he needed it to pop the balloons. He did not.
And yes, the snowpeople are clearly still hanging on...not had warm enough temps to melt a single flake on their heads.

When my 12yo peeled the balloons off the outside, I expected there to be a flat part on the top…you know, where the water didn’t completely fill the balloon and it leveled itself off.

I also expected the balloons to stretch at least a little bit, because, as we all know (or if we don’t, I’m reminding you of this right here) that water expands when it freezes.

So…all that rambling to say, imagine our surprise when the “flat” part was not on the top but underneath.

And not only was it not flat, but it was hollowed out to make a “bowl” shape.

This one had the most promenent hole by far... 
Why would that happen? Adept though my Googling skills are, I could not find an answer.

So…I leave you all with more questions than I do answers.

And we shall sit and await your (hopefully prompt) reply.

Smart-alek responses are also welcomed…I would expect nothing less.

For the meantime, we are pretending it is spring and these are over-sized Easter eggs.


  1. The air was most likely colder than the snow on the ground due to the recent polar vortex. This would causing the water on the "top" of the balloon to freeze first and thereby forcing the air pocket to the bottom of the balloon i.e. closer to the relatively warmer ground.

  2. PS. Please ignore my horrible horrible grammar. I didn't proofread before I hit publish.

  3. So my guess is that the air temperature was colder than the snow temperature due to the polar vortex. This would cause the water on the "air" side of the balloon to freeze first, thereby forcing the trapped air to the bottom unfrozen water until the whole thing finally froze causing a air pocket that looked like a bowl.

    1. I knew you'd know...thanks so much! You are better than Google. ;)


    Here is a like that briefly talks about how this works.

  5. That is crazy cool! Glad Cathy could find an answer!

    1. I knew she would...she's the friend from college for whom we kept a list of things she did not know. After four years, there weren't that many things on the list.

      And when I say she didn't know, I mean that the information wasn't in her head...she wasn't looking anything up. She's way better than Google.

  6. Replies
    1. That very thing did occur to my Dyanne...but I decided I didn't want to eat the ice cream outside in order to keep the bowls from melting. I'm fussy like that.

  7. My Kidzilla would absolutely LOVE these. I may have to keep this bookmarked for the next polar vortex.