Here are a few myths about tornadoes that you might have heard.
- Myth: “You should open windows to equalize air pressure.”
- Fact: Although tornadoes may have a low pressure center, houses are well-ventilated and pressure differences would be equalized well before explosive pressure drops came close enough to the house. Opening windows is a waste of time and may just bring more flying debris into your home.
- Myth: “You should always shelter from tornadoes in the southwest side of your house.”
- Fact: Tornadoes often come from the southwest, which is possibly related to how this old myth got started. Instead, you should hide in the center of your house, in a closet, underneath heavy furniture, or under a stairwell.
- Myth: “A highway overpass is a good tornado shelter.”
- Fact: Although a TV station video from Kansas in 1991 showed that people got apparent protection under an overpass, they were just providentially spared (not to mention the tornado did not come directly over them, as presumed). An overpass actually creates a wind tunnel effect, such that the winds under the overpass can actually be even stronger than the winds in the tornado. You would also be directly exposed to flying debris. People have been killed hiding under overpasses (most notably on May 3, 1999 in Oklahoma City). Instead, if you are in a car and a tornado is nearby, you should drive away, if possible, or take shelter in any nearby buildings (staying inside a stationary car is not a good idea).
- Myth: “My town is protected from tornadoes by a river, hill, valley, Indian burial ground, etc.”
- Fact: The idea that your town is protected is a combination of perhaps wishful thinking, a short memory, and the rarity of tornadoes. Tornadoes don’t care about surface features, though, they are more driven by what’s going on aloft. When I moved to Norman, I heard that there was a “bubble” or “dome” that seemed to keep tornadoes in Oklahoma City but not Norman. Norman had been struck by tornadoes in the 70s and 80s, but not for a while. Well, the so-called “bubble” was popped recently, as east Norman was hit by a tornado in June 2009 and again by an EF4 tornado in May 2010.