Myths and Misconceptions

April 17th, 2012 at 11:18 am by under Weather

Obviously, 2011 was a very active tornado year!  Tornadoes tend to be a hot topic in the spring and summer seasons!  Since we’ve already seen a couple outbreaks this month, I thought I would debunk some tornado myths and misconceptions.

But, before I run through the laundry list, just know that no place in the US is completely safe from tornadoes.  Every single state has documented at least ONE twister..yes, even Alaska!  Of course, tornadoes are more likely to occur in the Plain states on a hot and humid afternoon, but a tornado can occur at any time of day, any day of the year!  If you want to be completely safe from the threat of tornadoes..well..you’d have to move to Antarctica!

Myth #1 – “If a tornado is approaching, you should open all the windows in your house to equalize the pressure.”

Opening your windows will not keep your roof from blowing off, nor will it keep debris from crashing into your house – so don’t waste your time!  Your time will be better spent getting away from windows and finding a safe place until the storm passes.

Myth #2 – “Tornadoes never strike big cities.”

Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Miami, Salt Lake City, and New York City..all these big cities have been hit by at least one tornado!  Closer to home – anyone in Springfield or Worcester want to stand up and argue with this statement??

Myth #3 – “Some towns are protected.”

The idea of towns being “protected” is a combination of wishful thinking and rarity of tornadoes.  Rivers, hills, and valleys have little to no effect on mature tornadoes.  Tornadoes have crossed major rivers like the Mississippi and Missouri.  ..And, ahem, the Connecticut River..

Myth #4 – “Tornadoes don’t happen in the mountains.”

It’s not often you hear about twisters in the mountains, but it can happen!  Tornadoes have passed over mountain ridges 3,000 feet high.  Damage from an F-3 tornado was documented above 10,000 feet!

Myth #5 – “Hiding under a highway overpass will protect you from a tornado.”

A highway overpass can actually act as a wind tunnel and may collect flying debris!  An informal survey of storm chasers showed 9 out of 10, felt highway overpasses were an extremely dangerous place to be during a tornado.  You’re better off abandoning your car, getting into a ditch or culvert, and covering your head.

Myth #6 – “You can outrun a tornado in your car.”

You could probably outrun a tornado by concorde, but not by car!  Twisters can move at speeds over 70 MPH and can change directions erratically without warning.  You’re better off abandoning your car and seeking a sturdy shelter.

Myth #7 – “Mobile home parks are tornado magnets.”

It probably seems that way, but only because there are tens of thousands of mobile home parks in Tornado Alley..they’re bound to be in a tornado’s path at some point!  Mobile homes offer little to no protection against even the weakest tornadoes.

Myth #8 – “Bigger tornadoes are more dangerous than small ones.”

While the large wedge tornadoes can cause more damage just by sheer size, a skinny rope tornado can be among the strongest.  The speed  of the wind makes the twister stronger, not the area it covers.

Myth #9 – “The southwest corner of your home is the safest location during a tornado.”

The part of the home towards the approaching tornado (often, but not always southwest) is the least safe part of the basement, not the safest!  Any part of your home can be damaged from a tornado!  The southwest corner certainly won’t make a difference if your house is ripped off its foundation!

Misconception #10 – Contrary to popular belief, I (as a meteorologist) don’t control the weather!

Trust me, you wouldn’t want me controlling the weather anyway..if I did, it would be sunny, warm, and humid everyday!

While I’ve given you a pile of tornado myths, here’s an interesting fact:  Before the Enhanced Fujita Scale, meteorologists used the Fujita Tornado Damage Intensity Scale which actually went up to F-12!!!!  The F-12 level only began at winds speeds exceeding Mach 1 (738 MPH at -3 degrees Celsius)..with that said, the probability of a tornado having winds of this speed is infinitesimally small.  Now, we use the Enhanced Fujita Scale and the highest is an EF-5 (winds over 200 MPH).

-Meteorologist Ashley Baylor..hoping for a tornado-free summer!

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