Tornado Safety Myths

Posted in Weather Education, Weather Myths at 8:00 am by Rebekah

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.
  • ๏ปฟMyth: “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.

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  1. World Spinner said,

    January 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Green Sky Chaser ยป Tornado Safety Myths…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  2. musings said,

    January 20, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Thanks so much for your visit. I really enjoyed your blog. It’s been 4 years since I’ve had to worry about tornadoes. Sigh… Now it’s hurricanes. I guess you can never escape some kind of wild weather. I really enjoyed reading your myths. I’ll keep these in mind if we’re back in the midwest during one of these scary times.

  3. Brit Gal Sarah said,

    January 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Hi Rebekah, I think you signed my Guestbook today (it never tells me when!) so thank you. I was interested to see you have a UK friend living in OK, I wish I had another Brit near me, but I’m a rarity out here!

    Your blog is fascinating and I am bookmarking it as I need all the info I can get on tornadoes! I have been on the NWS Storm Alert training and so I know more now than I did before and the longer you are here the more you know.


  4. Rebekah said,

    January 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Kay: Hi, thanks for your visit! Now that’s one thing I’ve never experienced, a hurricane. When I was a kid, I used to think there must be some place in the world that was “safe” from natural disasters, be they tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc. However, then I realized that there’s a chance of one those almost wherever you are. ๐Ÿ˜› I used to fear earthquakes and volcanoes, when I lived in Washington State. Then I saw my first tornado up there and was terrified. I started to study tornadoes then, hoping to learn more about them and keep myself from being as scared the next time. And now I’m the crazy one who actually chases them down, to witness them, document them, and report them to the weather service.

  5. Rebekah said,

    January 20, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Sarah: Hi, thanks for returning the visit! I’m glad you found something of interest on my blog. I’m sure it must have been an adventure to come to Oklahoma, of all places, and probably interesting but scary to come right to Tornado Alley! PS: I’ve bookmarked your site as well. ๐Ÿ™‚