Severe Weather Awareness: Tornado Myths

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Meteorologist Trent Okerson

Not only are tornadoes one of nature’s most destructive forces, they are also one of the most mysterious and misunderstood. Ideas that for years were considered common knowledge have recently been uncovered as myths….and knowing what is fact and fiction could help save your life.

Myth #1…Highway overpasses are a safe place of shelter.

Unfortunately, this may be the worst place to go during a tornado, because the design of an overpass can create a "wind tunnel" effect, causing wind speeds to increase. Overpasses offer no protection from flying debris, and stopping on the highway blocks the flow of traffic, putting others in unnecessary danger. If you find yourself in the path of a tornado while driving and cannot find a sturdy place of shelter, park your vehicle out of traffic lanes and lie face down with your head covered in the lowest place available.

Myth #2…..Opening windows to equalize air pressure will help save your home from destruction by a tornado.

This is myth is based on the idea that tornado damage is caused from an intense drop in air pressure. The reality is that damage is caused by the violent winds of a tornado, which are capable of destroying your home whether the windows are open or closed. Don't waste precision time opening windows...instead get to a safe place as quickly as possible.

Myth #3…..The southwest corner of a building is its safest location in a tornado.

This misconception may in fact put you in a less than safe part of a building, as the exterior walls of a building are the most vulnerable to collapse. The safest place to be during a tornado is on the lowest level of the building in an interior room, preferably without windows, putting as many walls as possible between you and the storm.

Myth #4….Tornadoes are attracted to mobile homes.

This may seem to be true, since most tornado related deaths occur in mobile homes, but tornadoes do not discriminate where they strike.  Simply put, mobile homes are not sturdy enough to withstand a tornado, and are destroyed more easily that any other type of structure….. Bottom line, if you live in a mobile home, you must have a plan to move to a safer location in the event that a tornado warning is issued for your area.

Myth #5….Tornadoes never strike big cities.

Tornadoes can and do impact densely populated areas, and have stuck metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and Nashville in just the past several years.  Locally, deadly tornadoes have struck cities such as Marion, IL, Evansville, IN, and Jackson, TN.  And you may be surprised to know that St. Louis, MO has been hit with 6 significant tornadoes, more that any other major city in the US.

Myth #6…..My town is protected from tornadoes.

Many folks in our area believe that the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers protect their towns from tornadoes. This has been proven false, as tornadoes have crossed both rivers on numerous occasions, including the deadly Evansville tornado of 2005, which crossed the Ohio River three times before striking a mobile home park and killing 23 people. There is also a misconception that valley locations are protected from tornadoes. Again, this is incorrect, and in fact, a tornado that moves into a valley will be stretched, causing it to spin even faster and possibly do even more damage. Bottom line…never take a tornado warning lightly, and always have a plan of action to keep your family safe!

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