5 Myths about Tornado Safety

July 3, 2014 | 21 comment(s)

What you should know about tornado safety

When it comes to knowing the facts and fiction about tornado safety, some of us may be relying on movies like Twister as our reference—especially if we don’t live in “Tornado Alley.”

But what if you come face-to-face with a cyclone while traveling or moving to a new area? Would you know how to keep yourself safe?

As you prepare, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge the myths associated with tornado safety and to re-educate yourself to properly prepare. Here are 5 common myths about Tornado Safety you’ll want to know (and not fall for!) if a twister ever blows through your town.

 

Myth #1: Tornadoes only occur in Tornado Alley.

While it’s true that the central and Midwestern areas of the United States, known as Tornado Alley, do see a greater number of tornadoes, there’s no predicting where they can happen next. In fact, the experts at Weather.com suggest, “tornadoes can occur at any time of the year and in any part of the world.” And a recent accuweather.com article suggests there may be more than one tornado alley in the United States.

As you can see in the chart below, a majority of tornadoes take place in Tornado Alley, but tornadoes have also occurred in many other parts of the country as well.

5 Myths about Tornado Safety

The National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center (SPC) routinely collects reports of severe weather and compiles them with a Graphic Information System (GIS). This file contains track information regarding known tornados during the period 1950 to 2006.

 

According to an Associated Press report, a handful of tornadoes touched down in Northern California in March 2014. This area of the country, typically known for earthquakes and wildfires, experienced a tornado that damaged 20 homes. Many residents were not prepared for tornadoes, but they learned to prepare for the unexpected.

This incident is important to keep in mind when preparing your own emergency supplies or when preparing to travel. Collect food, light, water, first aid, and communication supplies now so you can be ready if a storm hits.

 

Myth #2: Tornadoes are unpredictable and therefore there is no way to prepare for them.

Tornadoes do move unpredictably, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way to prepare. Meteorologists and networks like the NOAA or Weather.com use radars and satellites to monitor temperature and wind patterns, and can give frequent updates for your area and early warnings to help you get to safety in time. The Voyager Pro Radio also has a weather alert feature that automatically notifies you when there are severe weather alert warnings in your area.

You can also become aware of the warning signs of an approaching tornado:

  • green sky
  • hail
  • heavy rain followed by an eerie calm or drastic wind shift
  • churning debris
  • the sound of continuous thundering

 

Myth #3: Sturdier buildings will protect me from the tornado.

It feels better to be behind brick than in an open mobile park, but when outside items such as poles or cars become projectiles, anything is possible. As part of your emergency preparations, remember to choose a shelter or safe destination ahead of time so you can execute your plan without delay.

If for some reason, something happens to your pre-determined shelter or you’re nowhere near it, the safest places are rooms without windows in the middle of the house, like a bathroom or closet. During a tornado in Joplin, MO, employees and customers at a local 7-11 took shelter in a cooler for safety because it was the only place in the building without windows. Check out the video below that illustrates the power of a tornado and how the cooler kept these people safe.

If you’re driving when a tornado hits, get out of the car and lie flat in the nearest ditch (away from other cars and trees) or go to the closest building you can find to take shelter.

Basements are also safe places to shelter in, but make sure there aren’t heavy appliances on the floor above you. Once you’re in the basement, get under a makeshift shelter like a workbench or mattress for added protection.

 

Myth #4: I can outrun a tornado in my car.

This may be true for trained meteorologists, so there is some debate over the issue. Tornadoes can shift quickly, and can move at about 70 miles per hour, so if there is no traffic and a straight road out of town, you may opt to take it instead of abandoning your car.

If you decide it’s best to abandon your vehicle, be sure to leave it somewhere it won’t block emergency vehicles. Then find low ground—possibly a ditch. If there are flash flood possibilities, avoid overpasses; they can turn into wind funnels.

 

Myth #5: If a tornado is heading your way, you should open all your windows.

People have sometimes thought this equalizes pressure, but it really just causes you to spend your time on something other than getting to safety. Because of flying debris and wind velocity, there is no real way to protect your property, so your physical safety should be the first priority.

Ultimately, finding the right shelter, having the right tools, and making a plan beforehand will be the best way to prepare for the unpredictable.

 

For more information on how to protect yourself during a tornado, check out our article, "Preparing for a Tornado."

 

What are your tips for staying safe during a tornado?

 

--Lesley

 

 

Sources:

http://www.popularmechanics.com/outdoors/survival/tips/5-myths-about-tornado-safety-16793545?click=pm_latest

http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/severeweather/tornadosafety.html

http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/five-tornado-safety-myths/25676569

http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/safety.html

http://www.mnn.com/family/protection-safety/stories/tornado-warning-signs

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/424106/the-limits-of-tornado-predictions/

http://www.weather.com/encyclopedia/tornado/forecast.html

“Tornado Alley chart” courtesy of accuweater.com http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/is-there-more-than-one-tornado/25431665


This post was posted in Insight, Disaster Scenarios

Comments

  • beprepared  |  July 21, 2014

    Joe,
    Thanks for that addition to the tip about not opening your windows. It is very dangerous to do so. What else do you include on your Tornado safety checklist?
    Angela

  • beprepared  |  July 21, 2014

    Leslie,
    Thanks for your comment! That is a great tip to consider. I know that this is especially important during floods, but I think this is something we may not think so much about in other natural disasters like Tornadoes. What other tips about Tornado safety would you suggest?
    Angela

  • beprepared  |  July 21, 2014

    Linda,
    Great advice. It always amazing me how many youtube videos and pictures surface from residents after a tornado. Also, I really like that you mention about going into a ditch, but remembering the flooding hazard of doing so. Great things to think about!
    Angela

  • beprepared  |  July 21, 2014

    Denese,
    Thanks for your comment. What specifically have you done to change your bathroom into a safe room-like structure? Do you have a special type of door? extra supplies stored there? Just wondering because we will be posting an article about designing a safe room in the coming weeks.
    Angela

  • Joe  |  July 21, 2014

    Opening windows of a house is actually worse than just a waste of time. There was a controlled test inside a giant windtunnel of two identically constructed houses. They opened the windows of one and kept them closed in the other. The one with the open windows blew apart at wind speeds that the one with closed windows kept together.

    The theory as to why has to do with total pressure (1/2rho V2 +p0), which in simple terms, the wind speed is turned into pressure from the inside.

    Now when there is a tornado warning, my checklist is to make sure all doors and windows throughout the house are closed.

  • James Marusek  |  July 21, 2014

    In general, I think most people believe that when a disaster strikes, it is the government that will be the major driver in recovery process. But I have found this to be an illusion; it is the homeowner. Getting the electrical power back on after a tornado can be a challenge. The power companies perform a process similar to that done by doctors in a medical emergency called a triage. They inspect the area of damage to determine the level of work required to clear a particular line and the number of people affected by that particular outage. They use this to prioritize the repair work. In my case after a tornado struck, I had multiple trees down tangled up in the power lines. As a result, there was significant effort required to put one home back online. So I knew I was at the bottom of the list. I took my chainsaw and cleared all the downed trees. The power company then came in and reconnected the lines and I was good.

  • Leslie M  |  July 21, 2014

    Wear your shoes. You don't want to be walking around outside with all the debris on the ground.

  • Linda Sand  |  July 21, 2014

    If caught outside do lie on low ground away from trees but think twice before lying in a ditch that will flood with you in it. Also, because tornados have been known to turn suddenly what you thought might be a safe road to drive away from it can become not safe instantly. And don't get so caught up taking pictures of it you forget to stay safe.

  • Denese  |  July 21, 2014

    It also doesn't hurt to prepare for the worst. In case you should end up with debris on top of the area you are in, be sure to have stored some water stored. A whistle can be a lifesaver too because it can help rescuers find you. You can build from there. I have a flashlight, some granola bars, a short pry bar, and a small medical kit. My safe room is my bathroom. I also have a sleeping bag handy right outside my bathroom so I can cover up in the bathtub and protect myself from at least some of the glass and other debris. My preparations make me feel a little more safe and that's a nice comfort when the situation is starting to look bad.

  • Rick  |  July 21, 2014

    I live in central Oklahoma. I have seen scores of tornadoes and was within sight of last year's very destructive ones. Their power is unimaginable. I have seen F-250s wrapped around trees where the front and back bumpers touched. I have seen 2x4s thrown through brick walls, sticking 18 inches inside the bathtub they say you should hide in. I have seen sheets of 1/2 inch plywood slice through brick walls like butter. Tornado safety is all about awareness. You need to know, 10, 15, or 20 minutes ahead, that you could be in the path. Then you need to get out of the way, or into the strongest shelter possible. Also know that they can suck you out of any shelter. I have seen one that literally sucked the asphalt off of the road. You just can't fully protect yourself if you are caught in one of these monsters. Advice from an old Okie, get as much warning as possible and take every precaution possible.

  • Delaina  |  July 21, 2014

    This is a good article and I like how they stated tornadoes can happen anywhere. I recently moved from Texas to Maine and guess what happened during the last storm? Tornadoes! I was the one in the building who knew what was happening and what to do. I was also the one with a mini emergency kit in my purse and an emergency kit in my car. Luckily nothing happened but it was nice to be prepared. I always say I am prepared for the world to blow up no matter where I am and that makes me feel more secure.

  • beprepared  |  July 22, 2014

    Delaina,
    That's a great attitude to take towards emergency preparedness. I'm glad you are ok and nothing happened to those in your building. Just goes to show, it's important to be prepared for Tornadoes no matter where we live.
    Angela

  • beprepared  |  July 22, 2014

    Rick,
    Great advice. What would you suggest people do to get warnings? How/where can they get info? What do you use to hear about Tornado warnings?
    Angela

  • beprepared  |  July 22, 2014

    Sarah,
    Great tip. That may be one overlooked element when preparing for an emergency--protection for your head! Great idea.
    Angela

  • Sarah  |  July 22, 2014

    A Helmet of some sort, bicycle, football, baseball or softball helmet. Especially if you are staying in the house in your bathroom or closet.

  • beprepared  |  July 23, 2014

    James,
    Thanks for sharing that story. What else did you learn about tornado preparation when you were in this storm?
    Angela

  • Kari  |  July 23, 2014

    People also think that under bridges or overpasses are safe places to be in tornadoes but they are actually very dangerous.

  • beprepared  |  July 24, 2014

    Kari,
    Thanks for the tip. What could happen to someone seeking shelter under a bridge or overpass?
    Angela

  • beprepared  |  July 24, 2014

    Denese,
    Those are excellent ideas to get started on making your bathroom safer. I also like your idea of having your cell phone and also having a radio to have two methods of communication in case one goes out. I have true respect for you being in so many tornadoes and having learned from those experiences to better prepare your home for it. I hope we can be of help to you in your upcoming bathroom remodel, if you check out our upcoming post about tips for building a saferoom/making an existing room in your home "safer." Thanks for your comments!
    Angela

  • Denese McAfee  |  July 24, 2014

    Angela, I have not yet modified my safe room (bathroom) much although I am in the planning stages of remodeling it. I have a huge mirror in there right now and I am considering replacing that with a much smaller medicine cabinet mirror. I figure I can wrap a towel around the mirror (on a door) and duct tape it in place if I have time. Your comments opened my eyes to the possibility of remodeling with safety as a part of the plan. Thanks! The main thing for me is that I have my emergency supplies in there. I forgot to mention that I also have a battery -operated radio that also has a hand-crank. I'm looking into getting a hand-held shortwave radio so I could call out if necessary. Since I moved into my little townhome about 7 years ago I've had 2 tornados come within a couple of miles of my home (in Minnesota) and 1 went by just 2 blocks away. Another one about 5 miles away completely destroyed a subdivision of homes. So this is a very real danger in my area. Also, as a child in Missouri, we had 2 tornados come very close with one actually jumping over the house I was at! I learned early how dangerous they are.

  • Denese McAfee  |  July 24, 2014

    Angela...I forgot to mention 1 thing. I will of course have my cell phone with me, but the shortwave is a redundant communication method in case my cell phone won't work. Letting rescuers or family know you are trapped will help you be rescued asap. --Denese

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