Tornado Myths – 5 Popular Myths Exposed

Family walking down street after tornado

Anyone who now lives, or has lived, in the Midwest or Southern United States has heard the myths associated with tornadoes. Tornado myths have been handed down and told by our elders for generations. But with today’s scientific knowledge and testing facilities, we know that a lot of yesterday’s tornado lore is no longer valid.

There are 5 particular tornado myths that seem logical but are entirely untrue. Perhaps they were deemed to be true because Uncle Jim or Grandma Mary did exactly what the myth(s) specified and lived, therefore they must be true. However, we now know that these tornado myths are just that……myths, and are actually quite dangerous and can be life endangering.

The 5 myths in question are:

1. Opening your windows during a tornado will save your house from being destroyed.

Tornado destroying old farmhouse      Tornado after destroying old farmhouse

Not True. There is a large drop in atmospheric pressure inside a strong tornado, it’s not likely that the pressure drop cause the house to explode. Opening windows may actually increase a tornado’s severity and potential for damage. A violent tornado can destroy a house whether its windows are open or closed.

2. Seeking shelter under a highway overpass will keep you safe.

Highway overpass

Nope. This myth has been seen on TV a few times, but like most things on TV it’s not true. In fact, this is a very dangerous myth, because when a tornado passes over or near an overpass, the winds are funneled directly under the bridge and can generate winds of even greater velocity. These winds can literally suck you away from your perceived safe place. According to the National Weather Service, “Seeking shelter under an overpass is more dangerous than standing in an open field while a tornado is approaching”.

You also have to be concerned with all of the debris under and near an overpass. The debris can be propelled and bounced around under an overpass and may cause severe injury. That is if you survive being sucked out of or blown out from under the overpass.

If your on the open road and a tornado is approaching your best survival move would be to lie flat in a low ditch or depression and cover your head. Be aware of where you are and watch for flash flooding.

3. A green colored sky indicates that a tornado is coming.

Strike three. Although, a “green” sky can be attributed to severe weather, there’s no evidence linking it specifically to tornadoes. It’s a phenomenon that’s puzzled scientists for decades. According to Jillian MacMath of AccuWeather, “in some cases, green clouds can appear in thunderstorms that are dropping hail and other times the cause may be as benign as the way in which the light particles from the reddish setting sun hit the blue clouds. Either way, it is dangerous to believe that the color of any cloud will tell you whether a tornado is approaching. Heed all warnings”.

4. Tornadoes do not strike cities.

Tornado hitting large city

Wrong. Tornadoes do form in open areas more often, but cities are by no means safe. Since 1967, seventy-seven medium to large cities have been victimized by a tornado. These cities include – San Antonio, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Tampa, Mobile, St Louis, Norman, Minneapolis and Brooklyn, New York (which had an EF1 on September 16, 2010). The reason that more tornadoes form over open areas is because there is more open area in the United States. Total urban land mass in the US consists of 106,386 square miles, while the rural land mass is 3,431,052 square miles.

5. Last but not least, the southwest corner of your basement is the safest place during a tornado.

Large houses destroyed by tornado

Again, not true. This one is attributed to John Park Finley, an American meteorologist and Army officer who was the first person to study tornadoes intensively, back in the late 1800’s. The basic idea was that tornadoes typically approach from the Southwest and therefore debris will be blown to the Northwest. What we know now is that a tornado can blow debris to any corner and area of a home or basement. According to Roger Edwards of the Storm Prediction Center, “Tornadoes are not straight-line winds, even on the scale of a house, so the strongest wind may be blowing from any direction and tornadoes themselves may arrive from any direction.”

There you are, five tornado myths and all explained and proven to be false. So, do your children and grandchildren a favor and let these myths just fade away. They’ll be safer and smarter.

Let us know what you think and don’t forget your tornado survival kit.

One thought on “Tornado Myths – 5 Popular Myths Exposed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *