Today we're going to take a look at the five most common myths about tornadoes. At one point or another, we have all heard at least a couple. Whether it's tornadoes do not cross rivers or mountains, or that opening the windows in your house relieves pressure. Let's dig in and debunk these common myths about tornadoes!
Number 5 - Tornadoes Do Not Cross Mountain Ranges or Hills.
This is simply not true. Tornadoes can occur anywhere the conditions are favorable.
On July 21, 1987 a large and powerful tornado trekked through the Teton Wilderness and Yellowstone National Park. The tornado went on a path of 24 miles and at times maintained 1.5-mile width at an elevation up to 10,000 feet above sea level. The tornado destroyed an estimated 1,000,000 trees. A damage survey conducted by the National Weather Services gave the tornado a rating of F4 and it remains as the most powerful tornado in Wyoming since record keeping. Though tornadoes are not nearly as common west of the Rocky Mountains other regions of the country get frequent tornadoes in hilly or rolling terrain.
Other areas like that of the Southeast United States, the terrain contains many hills and small mountain ranges. This portion of the country is known as Dixie Alley and many record-breaking Tornado Outbreaks have occurred there. Such as the Super Outbreak of April 1974 and the more recent April 2011 Super Outbreak. As long as the conditions are favorable tornadoes can develop. Even Alaska has seen a few tornadoes in its day, although rare.
Number 4 - Open The Windows In Your House When a Tornado is Coming.
For a long time, it was believed you had to run right to your windows and open them before seeking shelter otherwise your home was essentially going to explode. This too is false. When opening the windows of your home during a tornado a few things can happen. Bad things.
- Opening the windows welcomes the strong tornadic winds and airborne debris right into your home. In return, this applies more force against the walls and ceiling of your home increasing the likely hood of the home failing. Think of it as blowing up a balloon to the point of popping.
- You lose precious time to seek shelter. When is the last time you opened all the windows in your home to enjoy a pleasant day? It takes a bit of time. When a tornado is barreling in on your location each second is precious to seek shelter.
The best call to action is making a plan ahead of time. Come up with a plan on what you and your family need to do in the event of a tornado. Select a room in the most central part of the house, have blankets, pillows (to cover yourself with for protection from debris) flashlights and other items you may find helpful in an easy to access location. When a tornado warning is issued for your location follow the plan accordingly. Also, get a weather radio. They are affordable and give you the most up to date warnings and provide information even the power is out. Weather radios save lives.
Number 3 - During a Tornado Seek Shelter Under an Overpass.
This one is a very common myth and is also False. Most tornado deaths are associated with vehicles. You're driving down the highway experiencing nasty weather and suddenly a tornado is coming right in your direction. You see an overpass close by and decide to seek shelter. This is the worse thing you can do. Here is why. We'll use a river as an example. Imagine yourself walking down the banks of a large river it's smooth and gently flowing. As you're walking alongside the river it begins to narrow and the water is forced through the narrow section. The speed of the water increases greatly. Wind moving through an overpass does the exact same thing. Since the wind is being constricted into tighter space it increases in velocity. Placing your odds of survival against you. Many tornado-related deaths are from motorist and people seeking shelter under overpasses. The best thing you can do is think ahead of time, monitor the weather, avoid driving into storms that have severe or tornado warnings. If you find yourself caught up in a bad situation quickly find nearby sturdy shelters, like a well-built gas station, bank or other public places to ride out the storm. If no shelters are nearby and a tornado is coming into your direction. Pull over, exit your vehicle, find the lowest spot in the land like a ditch. Lay down flat on your stomach and cover the back of your head with both hands. Most likely the tornado will miss your location, but if it doesn't the winds will be flowing over the top of you since you're keeping a low profile while laying in a low spot.
Number 2 - Tornadoes Target Mobile Homes and Trailer Parks.
This one almost seems like it could be real, but it too is false. The reason is fairly simple. Mobile homes are an affordable option for many people. Since they are so affordable they are everywhere. The more there is of something the greater the chances it has to be encountered. Areas like that of the Southern United States where mobile home and trailer parks are commonplace and also experience higher tornado frequency. It's just a terrible combination. Mobile homes are poorly built to withstand the force of significant severe weather and tornadoes. Because of this, many tornado-related deaths are associated with mobile homes. What can you do if you live in a mobile home?
- Talk with nearby friends and family who have sturdily built homes or storm shelters. Create a plan for when bad weather is in the forecast to head on over to their place. Hang out with them during the bad weather until it clears.
- Get a storm shelter. If you have the room for one there are many companies to choose from and in some areas, there are government rebate programs to help you get your storm shelter
Number 1 - Tornadoes Do Not Strike Large Cities, Downtown Areas or My Town is Protected.
Sadly, many people believe this common tornado myth. Yet, time and time again tornadoes have proven to us that they are capable of anything when the conditions are favorable. Cities like St. Louis, Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, Oklahoma City, Miami, Salt Lake City, and much more have been impacted by tornadoes and several of them strong to violent tornadoes. One of the most famous tornadoes to strike a downtown area was on March 28, 2000, when a powerful F3 tornado struck downtown Fort Worth, TX. The tornado had winds up to 145 mph and did $450 million dollars in damage. Moore, Oklahoma, a large and sprawling suburb of Oklahoma City has been impacted twice by F5 and EF5 tornadoes. Once on May 3, 1999, and again on May 20, 2013.
Lastly, I often hear people discuss how their towns are not susceptible to tornadoes. They normally tell me it is due to a river or Native American blessing, While this might be comforting to them it's undoubtedly a myth. The odds of having a tornado impact your town or city is very, very low. Even in areas where tornadoes are more common. At some point though in time a tornado could threaten your area. It may not be tomorrow or next spring, but it could happen at some time. Rivers do not stop tornadoes, nor do hills and mountains. Tornadoes have crossed the Mississippi River many times. Tornadoes know no boundaries, they have no bias. They simply just exist. It's a rotating column of air that extends from a cloud to the ground. Though they are extremely complex to understand, it's not difficult to prepare yourself for almost any situation to keep your family and yourself safe from the dangers of tornadoes.
Erik Burns is a professional storm chaser and severe weather expert of 15 years. He is the tour director and tour guide for Tornadic Expeditions Storm Chasing Tours.