The United States averages roughly 1,179 tornadoes each year, and right now, tornado season is just getting underway. From May until July, Americans in the Southern states, Southern Plains, Gulf Coast and Midwest are subject to storms that could not only bring torrential downpours, but also devastating twisters capable of changing their homes — and their lives — in an instant.
For a weather event that is as common as tornadoes are, there are a lot of deadly misconceptions out there about what these storms are truly capable of. We’re going to dispel several of these myths in order to help you and your family remain as safe as possible this tornado season.
If you’re in a car as a tornado is approaching, seek shelter under an overpass.
Seeking shelter under an overpass is actually more dangerous than standing in the middle of an open field. As a tornado passes an overpass, the winds get funneled under the bridge, which actually increases their speed. Standing between two tall buildings on a windy day gives you the same effect — the winds are usually much stronger between the buildings than they are anywhere else.
Tornadoes never strike the same place twice.
The good people of Moore, Oklahoma would respectfully disagree with this myth. Moore was devastated by a tornado in May, 1999 and again in May 2013. Codell, Kansas was famously hit by tornadoes on May 20 in three consecutive years: 1916, 1917, and 1918. And Oklahoma City has been hit more than 140 times by tornadoes since records began in the early 1890s. Bottom line: tornadoes can, and do, strike the same places twice.
Big cities with their tall buildings are protected from tornadoes.
Because most large cities cover a relatively small geographical area, the chances of a tornado striking are small, but not nonexistent. Miami, Houston, Fort Worth, Atlanta and Nashville are all major metropolises that have been directly hit by twisters. And their tall buildings of 500 to 1000 feet did nothing to deflect tornado-producing storms, which are 8 to 12 miles in height.
Tornadoes can’t form on mountains, in ridges, river valleys or in areas near large lakes.
Tornadoes are possible in every corner of the United States. Chicago is bordered by the massive Lake Michigan on the east, and a tornado swept through the southern part of the city in 1961. An F4 tornado touched down in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park in 1987. And the Tennessee Valley experiences tornado activity fairly frequently. Twisters don’t have an address — they move to wherever conditions are suitable.
To minimize damage to your house, open all windows prior to a tornado striking to equalize pressure and prevent it from exploding.
While tornadoes do have incredible pressure changes, if a tornado hits your house directly, all of the open windows in the world won’t prevent it from being severely damaged. And by opening the windows, you’re only allowing flying debris into your home that can cause injury.
How can I protect myself in my home?
If you’re home when a tornado hits:
For more advice on protecting your family during severe spring weather, check out our other post on storm safety: Spring Storm Safety: What You Need to Know.