Peak tornado season begins in the spring, officially on May 19th. They cause an average of 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries in the U.S. each year. It's important to understand how dangerous they can be and to be aware of safety measures.
Unfortunately, there are common myths about tornadoes that put people in harm's way.
Myth #1: The safest place to take shelter from a tornado is the southwest corner of a basement.
In 1887, meteorologist John Park Finley informed the public that they should never take shelter in a northwest corner of a home during a tornado. His theory stemmed from the myth that because tornadoes typically come from the southwest, debris will tend to be blown to the northeast side.
It became a widely believed myth that turned out to be false. Tornadoes can come from any direction. Either way, tornadoes are not straight-line winds and can therefore also blow from any direction.
Myth #2: Tornadoes can't happen in big cities.
A tornado can happen anywhere. They're more likely to hit in Tornado Alley, but that doesn't exclude them from occurring in other locations.
People often think of tornadoes as more likely to happen in open spaces or mobile parks. While tornadoes are more likely to cause damage to mobile homes, a condo can also be in the line of fire.
Myth #3: Open your windows slightly during a tornado to release air pressure.
So the warning sirens are blaring and the wind is picking up. As the tornado gets closer and the air pressure drops, you worry the house will explode. What do you do? Open your windows slightly to balance out the air pressure. This is a great idea, right? Nope.
It's the strong winds that damage your house and taking time to open windows can put you in danger. In fact, you should stay away from windows.
Myth #4: Hide under a highway overpass for safety.
There was a popular video (that we won't link to here) of people hiding from a tornado under an overpass. Luckily, those people survived, but it was a risky move. It fed into the myth that underpasses are a great shelter from tornadoes. They're not.
According to the National Weather Service Forecast Office, "Seeking shelter under an overpass is more dangerous than standing in an open field while a tornado is approaching."
Myth #5: You'll always see a funnel cloud.
Don't assume that as long as there is no visible funnel cloud that you're safe. They can be hidden in heavy rains during the day or by the dark of night.
Severe thunderstorms can produce tornadoes with little or no warning. Seek shelter before it hits.
Stay away from windows and go to the lowest room in your home. If you don't have a basement, go to a small interior room.
Never try to outrun a tornado. You can drive at a 90 degree angle away from the storm or abandon your vehicle and lie in a low area. Watch for flash flooding.
Learn more about tornado safety here.
And remember, once the storm is over, we'll be back to blue skies.
Help debunk these tornado myths to the people in your life.