As residents of the Midwest, we may think we’re knowledgeable about tornadoes and their dangers. But some myths about these powerful storms still exist. The following are some common tornado myths and the facts that disprove them.
MYTH: I can outrun a tornado in a vehicle.
FACT: Tornadoes can move at speeds of 70 mph or more and can shift directions without warning. If you’re driving and encounter a tornado, abandon your vehicle and seek shelter immediately.
MYTH: Hiding under an interstate or freeway overpass will protect me from a tornado.
FACT: While the concrete of the overpass may protect you from debris, the overpass can also act as a wind tunnel and accelerate winds to 300 mph or more. Also, tornado wind speeds tend to be higher with height. By climbing up off the ground, you are in greater danger from both the tornado and flying debris. If you encounter a tornado while driving, abandon your vehicle and find a roadside ditch or other low spot. If an overpass or bridge is your only option, only consider overpasses with strong supports, against which you can take shelter at ground level. Stay away from overpasses with smooth concrete spans with no support columns.
MYTH: The low pressure of a tornado causes buildings to explode. Open a window before taking shelter.
FACT: This effort to equalize pressure has no effect. Don’t waste valuable time by opening windows. Instead, move to a safe place immediately.
MYTH: An approaching tornado will always be visible.
FACT: Most storms have a visible funnel, but tornadoes can sometimes be hidden by trees or terrain or also wrapped in rain.
MYTH: Rivers, lakes and mountains will protect you from a tornado.
FACT: No terrain is safe from a tornado, which can cross bodies of water. Every major river east of the Rocky Mountains has been crossed by a tornado of significant size. Altitude also doesn’t matter; locations high in the Appalachian, Rocky and Sierra Nevada mountains have all experienced tornadoes.
MYTH: If a tornado isn’t coming directly at me, I’m safe.
FACT: Tornadoes can act erratically and quickly change direction. The only safe place to be during a tornado waning is inside a sturdy shelter. Even if you’re tempted to chase a tornado for a photo or adrenaline rush, leave the chasing to trained meteorologists.