Things You Might Not Know About Tornadoes

Tornadoes can happen anywhere, anytime. In fact, tornadoes have been observed on every continent except Antarctica! For more tornado tips and mythbusting, we turned to those in the know – meteorologists!

Dr. Harold Brooks, Storm Prediction Center, National Weather Service:

  1. Most tornadoes won't cause significant damage to a well-built frame home. Almost 90% of all tornadoes in the US are F0 or F1. You start to see more than shingle damage at F2.
  2. Almost any tornado is survivable if you take appropriate safety precautions - learn how to get prepared!

The Myths

  1. Certain topographical protect your town from tornadoes.

    This is not true…“It seems that almost every place that hasn't gotten hit in a long time in the Plains has some legend associated with it (often attributed to Indian lore) about something outside of town that protects the town,” says Dr. Brooks. “Here, in Norman, I've heard people say that the bend in the Canadian River southwest of town is protection, even though the 3 May 1999 tornado crossed at the next similar bend to the northwest about 25 miles away.

    “The most famous of the legends was Burnett's Mound, southwest of Topeka, Kansas. The June 1966 F5 tornado that nailed Topeka touched down on top of Burnett's Mound. Needless to say, people in Topeka don't believe in that one any more.”

  2. A funnel cloud always appears before a tornado.
    The tornado is not the cloud, it's the winds. A funnel cloud doesn't have to be in contact with the ground for there to be a tornado. - Dr. Brooks
  3. Tornadoes cannot cross water
    False - a waterspout is a type of tornado that forms on water, and tornadoes that form on land can cross bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. –
  4. The strong pressure from the storm creates a "vacuum" inside structures, making houses explode.
    Not so. Tornado pressures are, at most, about 10% lower than the surrounding atmosphere. Houses get blown down by the winds. – Dr. Brooks
  5. Opening the windows in your house will reduce damage.
    It turns out that this myth is horribly wrong and, in fact, could increase damage by making it "easier" for the winds to get into the house and lift the roof off.
  6. Tornadoes only hit Tornado Alley, they don’t hit big cities.
    Tornadoes can happen anywhere, anytime. Downtown Atlanta experienced a tornado on Mar. 14, 2008. Tornadoes have been observed on every continent except Antarctica.
  7. Tornadoes only happen in spring and summer.
    In the southern states, peak tornado occurrence is in March through May, while peak months in the northern states are during the summer. But in some states, a secondary tornado maximum occurs in the fall. – National Weather Service

When a Tornado Watch or Warning is Issued…

  1. Watch stage: Start getting information from the National Weather Service and local media.
    NOAA Weather Radios are ~$35 and can provide official information quickly. Local media outlets, instead of watching a DVD on TV or listening to an MP3 player or CD, that actually have humans at them (some stations are mostly programmed at a national source with local commercials/PSAs added in) can provide real time information. – Dr. Brooks
  2. Know where to go
    Know where to seek shelter when warnings are issued. If you are driving home from work during tornado warnings, know where to seek shelter. – Dr. Henry Margusity,
  3. BONUS Tip:
    When you go into your place of shelter, wear a bicycle helmet to protect your head from flying debris. Also wear shoes; many survivors get injured stepping on debris. – Dr. Brooks

    Dr. Margusity says it best, “Never take Mother Nature for granted. We have seen in the past five years more disasters caused by tornadoes, hurricanes, wind storms and severe storms than we have seen in a long time. Whatever is causing the extreme weather events, never assume it will not happen to you. Remember, we can never beat the weather, only avoid it!”

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