It’s a warm afternoon, and the skies have turned a greenish gray color that can only mean trouble. Many misconceptions swirl around the subject of tornadoes. What many believed to be fact may actually be fiction.
Dangerous Lie Number 1
“The southwest corner of your house is the safest place to be during a tornado”
In fact, occupying the area that is closest to the approaching tornado, whether it’s above ground or in the basement, results in the most fatalities. A prominent study in the 1960s showed that the north side of the house is the safest area, both on the ground floor and in the basement. Many homes shift from their foundations during a tornado, toppling walls in the same direction as the storm’s path. If the storm approaches from the southwest, then the home’s Southwest walls will fall into the structure, while North and north-east walls will fall away from the interior as the tornado moves away.
Dangerous Lie Number 2
“During a tornado, you should open all windows to equalize air pressure and reduce damage.”
The question of air pressure differences is really no question at all. Engineers agree that a storm with 260 mile per hour winds, classified as an F4 or devastating tornado, creates a pressure drop of only 10 percent. Homes and buildings have enough vents and natural openings to easily accommodate that. In fact, running around opening windows can increase the possibility of interior damage and personal injury, and it can take valuable time away from finding a safe place to ride out the storm.
Dangerous Lie Number 3
“A highway overpass is a safe place to wait out a storm when you’re on the road.”
A video clip of a TV news crew surviving a tornado by huddling under an overpass was seen around the world in the 1990s, leading many to believe this was a location out of harm’s way. But most trained Storm Chasers consider Highway overpasses extremely dangerous places to be thanks. National Weather Service meteorologists judge overpasses to be poor shelters from severe weather because high winds essentially channel themselves under these structures, carrying with them flying debris.
Dangerous Lie Number 4
“Tornadoes never Strike large cities.”
There are many examples of tornadoes in large cities. The following big cities, populations of at least 300,000, have witnessed tornado activity. On a single day in 1998, three major tornadoes struck Nashville, Tennessee. St Louis, Missouri, witnessed 10 tornadoes between 1871 and 2007, resulting in more than 370 deaths. An F3 tornado roared through Dallas in 1957. In 1997, tornadoes touched down in Miami and Cincinnati, and another tore through Fort Worth Texas in 2000. Yet, this myth about large cities persists. The combination of traffic, dense activity, and considerable amounts of concrete and asphalt in large cities creates what is known as a ” heat island”. This Rising warm air has the potential to disrupt minor tornado activity, but it’s no match for the fury of larger tornadoes. Cities occupy a much smaller geographic area than rural regions of the country, so the chance that a tornado will strike a city is relatively small.
Dangerous Lie number 5
“You should use your vehicle to outrun a tornado”
Experts say that you can try to drive away from a tornado, but only if it’s a long way off. Tornadoes can travel as fast as 70 miles per hour and can easily overtake a vehicle. Even if a tornado is traveling at a much slower speed, the accompanying storm will likely produce strong winds, heavy rain, and hail that make driving difficult if not impossible. What’s more, tornadoes are dangerously erratic and can change directions without warning. If you’re caught in a vehicle during a tornado, your best bet is to abandon it and seek shelter in a building or nearby ditch or culvert.