As we go through life, we find those weather myths that never seem to go away. Listening to these myths can be dangerous and even potentially deadly. So let's take a look at some of those tornado, lightning, and flood myths...
Myth: You should open up the windows before a tornado hits to equalize the pressure in the building so it won’t explode.
Fact: An open window won’t stop a tornado from damaging a building. Most damage is due to debris hitting the structure and the force of strong tornadic winds on the building. Opening windows allows more debris into the building and allows damaging winds to enter the structure. In most instances, flying debris will break the windows...so don’t waste your time opening a window, get to a safe place immediately!
Myth: Areas near mountains are safe from tornadoes.
Fact: Tornadoes will travel up, over, near and through mountains. In fact, on July 7, 2004, a tornado touched down at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet at Rockwell Pass in the Sequoia National Park.
Myth: Large cities are protected from tornadoes by their tall buildings.
Fact: Tornados often strike major cities. In recent history tornadoes have struck Saint Louis, Chicago, Albuquerque, New York City, Miami and Salt Lake City. Oklahoma City has been struck approximately 100 times!
Myth: Extreme structural damage can only be caused by the winds in a tornado.
Fact: Ordinary thunderstorm winds, called downburst straight-line winds, can reach speeds of 60 – 150 mph and result in lots of structural damage and uprooted trees.
Myth: The southwest corner of the house is the safest place to be during a tornado.
Fact: Always go to the lowest level of the house during a warning. However, keep in mind that a car or pickup truck can be pushed into a basement - so the southwest side isn't necessarily the safest place in a basement. You need to get under something solid while in a basement, like a heavy desk or work-table, or the stairs. If you can't make it to the basement in time, then a small interior room such as a bathroom offers more safety. You want to place as many walls between you and the outside of the building. Get away from windows, and cover your head.
Myth: A tornado is always preceded by a funnel.
Fact: A tornado can be nearly invisible and the condensation funnel make take several minutes to develop after the tornado has already damaged buildings, trees, and power-lines. The condensation funnel actually sits inside an invisible, violently rotating column of air that is the tornado. Most people refer to the condensation funnel as a funnel cloud. The condensation funnel does develop downward, and most do eventually "touch the ground' giving you the false perception that the tornado developed aloft and then touched-down. However, the tornado can precede the visible condensation funnel. The condensation funnel can take several minutes to develop or it may develop almost instantaneously in the tornado column between the cloud base and the ground. In some tornado situations, a condensation funnel may never be visible - in other words the condensation funnel (what most people refer to as a funnel cloud) isn't the tornado!
Myth: You can see all tornadoes.
Fact: A tornado is just a violently rotating column of air extending from the cloud base to the ground. What we see is the debris within the tornado or eventually the condensation funnel. It is possible for a weak tornado to have little rotating debris/dirt effects at the ground. Also, a tornado may be hidden within heavy rain.
Myth: You only need to worry about tornadoes during the summer months.
Fact: Tornadoes can strike any time of year. In fact, an EF 3 tornado stuck Kenosha and Walworth Counties in southeast Wisconsin on January 7, 2008. Three days later they received 4 inches of snow.
Myth: You should try to outrun a tornado in your car.
Fact: A tornado can travel at speeds up to 70 mph and in an unpredictable path. You may find yourself suddenly driving into the tornado, or the tornado may turn in such a way that corners you and prevents you from driving away safely. Get out of your car and lie flat in a ditch.
Myth: The safest place to hide from a tornado when trapped outdoors is under an overpass.
Fact: Overpasses offer no protection from a tornado or its debris. In fact, the tornado winds blow stronger under the overpass due to the wind tunnel effect, and flying debris can injure or kill you. If you cannot find shelter indoors, you should lie flat on the ground and clasp you hands over your head.
Myth: Storms will "split up" as they approach a city or hill.
Fact: This is an optical illusion reported by nearly everyone. When the storm is far away it looks compacted, not unlike looking at train tracks in the distance. As two adjacent storms move closer, the distance between them increases, giving it the illusion of splitting apart.
Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place multiple times, especially if it’s a tall, pointy, isolated object. In fact, lightning strikes the Empire State Building around 25 times per year.
Myth: If it’s not raining or there are no clouds overhead, then you are safe from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes more than 3 miles from the thunderstorm. Lightning can strike 10-15 miles from the storm, although, this is less frequent. In extreme cases, lightning from anvil clouds can strike 50 miles away from the cloud!
Myth: The rubber tires of your car keep you safe from a lightning strike because it insulates you from the ground.
Fact: It is the metal of the roof and sides of your car that keep you safe as long as you are not touching any metal part of the car. The few inches of rubber in the tires are a useless insulator against lightning! Any metal shell will keep you safe. Cars and airplanes are examples of Faraday Cages. The metal shell will cause the electricity to be re-directed around you.
Myth: A victim struck by lightning is electrified, and it is dangerous for you to touch them at the risk of being electrocuted.
Fact: The human body cannot store electricity. It is safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. If first aid is given imminently, the survival rate for a strike victim is about 90%.
Myth: If you are inside a house, you are completely safe from lightning.
Fact: Although you are safest indoors, you are not completely safe. Staying away from appliances connected to electricity and plumbing along with staying away from windows and doors will significantly reduce your risk of being struck indoors.
Myth: If you’re caught outside during a lightning storm, a good place to seek shelter is under a tree.
Fact: Standing under a tree is extremely dangerous. It is the second leading cause of lightning-related deaths. The best place to be is in an enclosed building, away from windows and electrical & plumbing devices.
Myth: If no shelter is available during a lightning storm, you should lie flat on the ground to avoid getting struck.
Fact: The best position is the lightning crouch. Put your feet together, squat low, tuck your head, cover your ears, and stand on the balls of your feet. The goal is to have as little of you in contact with the ground as possible.
Myth: Heat lightning is a special kind of lightning
Fact: What many people call “heat lightning” is normal lightning; the storm is so far away we can’t hear the thunder. Thunder rarely travels more than 10 miles.
Additional fact: Another reason we might see lightning without hearing thunder is that the warm moist air at the surface may refract the sound upward and away, making it difficult to hear thunder. That’s probably why people associate this kind of lightning with hot summer nights.
Myth: Lightning only forms in thunderstorms
Fact: Lightning can occur in volcanic ash, smoke from forest fires, and even in snowstorms.
Myth: I can drive my car or pick-up through a flooded area safely.
Fact: It takes only two feet of fast flowing water to flip over a full-sized car and only six inches is needed to knock a person off their feet. It is also extremely dangerous to drive through water because the road underneath may be washed away, and you wouldn’t be able to see it.
Myth: There can only be flash flooding when it is raining.
Fact: There only needs to be rain falling farther upstream for an area downstream to flood.
Research done by: Melissa Peterson, Student Volunteer