20 Tornado Myths
That Can Save Your Live

1.  Open windows if a tornado is approaching.

FALSE: That is an old theory that just won’t go away. But open windows make a home MORE dangerous. STAY AWAY from all windows. IF your home is struck by a tornado, the windows will be “opened” by the severe wind. You won’t want to be anywhere near them. You will want to be in a windowless room in the middle of the house with internal walls, hopefully in the basement under a staircase or work bench. See “Tornado Safety”.

2.  Deaths from tornados are more likely in the Southeastern U.S. than in Tornado Alley (the Mid-West), even though Tornado Alley has many more tornados.

TRUE:  This is hard to believe, but true for a combination of reasons. In the Southeast, population is much more dense, there are fewer basements, there is a higher concentration of mobile homes, and finally, Southeasterners are not as afraid of tornados as those in the Southwest, so they don’t heed the warnings as well.

3.  There are small U.S. regions of unexpected high tornado frequency and areas with unexpected low frequency of tornados.

TRUE:  There are several "exceptions" in the map of tornado distribution and small regions of extreme concentration.  This is true even inside Tornado Alley.

4.  If in a car, seek shelter under an overpass.

FALSE: When you are in a car, it is CRITICAL not to seek shelter under an overpass.  Wind currents intensify as they are squeezed under an overpass which INCREASES the risk of injury or death from flying objects. 

5.  The Southwest corner of a house (or basement) is the safest location during a tornado.

FALSE:  That was an old theory because many tornados approach from the Southwest. The thinking was that above ground walls and floors would fall toward the Northeast (away from the Southwest corner). But theory isn’t always accurate. Whether on a ground level or in a basement, you DO NOT want to be near an outside wall. See “Tornado Safety”.

6.  Tornados seek mobile home parks.

FALSE:  It just seems that way because mobile homes are more vulnerable to wind damage. They get the news coverage.

7.  Cities, tall buildings, and hills slow tornados down.

FALSE:  OK, “sometimes.” But you can’t count on it. Tornados have been observed crossing the Appalachian Mountains., they easily cross large rivers, and major tornados have plowed right through Dallas , Kansas City, Omaha , and several other large cities. In August 1999 a tornado went right through downtown Salt Lake City which astonished everyone.

8.  Tornados, like lightning, never strike twice.

FALSE:  Some places have been hit several times by tornados.

9.  The "clash of the seasons" causes tornados.

FALSE:  This could be answered as “True” also, which means it is mostly about the definition of “clash of the seasons”. Temperature contrast is definitely critical, but other factors such as the jet stream and high moisture content are more important than a temperature contrast. Since these factors tend to happen more in the Spring and early summer, people think of it as a “clash” or “change” of season, but it is more accurate to give credit to the warming weather patters that accompany those months.

10.   Tornados are the number one weather killer in the U.S.

FALSE:   Tornados are third. Weather killers from 1960-1996 are:  

Flash floods:  4,629
Lightning:  3,221
Tornados:  2,734
Hurricanes:  1,104

11.  Most tornado damage is caused by rapid reduction in pressure (suction) that “pulls” debris into the funnel.

FALSE:  It is actually the “other” side of the equation. While a lot of tornado damage is caused by strong wind and flying debris being “pulled” into a tornado, the majority of damage is from the strong wind “pushing” walls over and “throwing” debris out that was first sucked into the funnel.  Debris speeds up while in the funnel, so it is thrown out much faster than it is pulled in.

12.  Most tornados are the large size that you see on the evening news.

FALSE:  Most tornados are small (50-100 feet wide), travel less than 1 mile, and last only a few minutes.  Large F-4 and F-5 tornados represent less than 5% of all tornados but cause most of the death and destruction.

13.  All tornados in the Northern Hemisphere rotate counter-clockwise.

FALSE:  A few small F-0 and F-1 tornados can rotate clockwise or "anti-cyclonically”.  The vast majority rotate counter-clockwise because of the large weather systems that are rotating in the same direction. But sometimes tornados can form from wind blowing “against” the grain due to being re-directed by mountains, or even large buildings. But they are usually weaker tornados because they lack the strong upper-level systems that provide the power of traditional tornados.

14.  Annual tornado deaths are increasing in number.

FALSE:  Tornado-related deaths are actually about the same from year to year.  But, because our population is increasing, there are actually fewer deaths “per tornado”.

15.  Tornados are increasing in frequency.

FALSE: The number of tornados varies from year to year, but there is not any long-term increase. However, with the increasing number of cable and news organizations, there is a HUGE increase in the reporting of tornados.

16.  Tornado chasing is safe?

FALSE:  Absolutely not. It is VERY dangerous. Tornados can change course without notice and come right back toward you. If you are in a car, you can’t turn around fast enough. If you are on foot, you can be swept up into the tornado from quite a distance away from the visible funnel. And believe me, the trip won’t be like the Wizard of Oz. Don’t chase tornados.

17.  The movie "TWISTER" with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton was factual.

FALSE:  Hollywood produces fantasy, and to make a story as authentic as possible, they also include a lot of truth and facts. 

18.  Cars are safer than mobile homes during a tornado.

TRUE and FALSE:  Bo th can be deadly locations. Cars might be a little safer, but people have died in both in the same storm.  It is MUCH better to be inside an appropriate shelter. See “ Tornado Safety”.

19.  Doppler radar can see all tornados.

FALSE:  Doppler is an amazing technology, but it cannot see all tornados, especially smaller ones.

20.  Tornadic thunderstorms produce less lightning and hail compared to non-tornadic thunderstorms.

FALSE:  Tornados, lightning, and hail are all more common in tall thunder cells than smaller weather clouds. U pd rafts are more intense which amplifies electrical build-up as well as increasing layers of super-cooled water drops which turn into hail. However, tornados can occur without either of the other two phenomenon’s occurring.

Click here to get your own miniature Vortx Coin-Spinning Toy which uses the same principles of physics. You can even make coins climb UP the vortex similar to how a tornado sucks objects up into its funnel.



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