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Tornado: Myth or Fact?

UPDATED March 26, 2014

By WeatherBug Meteorologists

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When a tornado threatens, the decisions you make before it strikes may mean the difference between life and death.

There is no shortage of advice about what to do in a tornado. Much of it is good, sound advice, yet several popular, but dangerous misconceptions still exist. Not only misconceptions about how to protect yourself, but also how tornadoes behave.

Do you know how to tell the difference between tornado fact and myth?

Tornadoes avoid cities?

Myth.

Several examples dispel this myth. In May 3, 1999 a massive F5 tornado ripped into heavily populated neighborhoods of southern Oklahoma City. Salt Lake City, Utah experienced a rare, F1 tornado on August 11, 1999. Tornadoes have also occurred in Atlant, St. Louis, Fort Worth, Nashville, Cincinnati and Chicago, just to name a few cities.

When a tornado threatens, you should open the windows in your house to equalize air pressure?

Myth.

This wastes time that is better spent finding adequate and substantial shelter from the approaching storm. A direct hit from a tornado would likely result in the windows being blown out anyway.

If caught in a vehicle during a tornado, a highway overpass provides adequate shelter?

Myth.

Although video clips from 1991 depicted several people escaping a Kansas tornado under such an overpass, research has shown this not to be as safe as once thought.

Winds may actually accelerate under such an overpass. Also, most overpasses do not have girders in which to crawl into or hold onto. Those seeking shelter there are likely to be pummeled by debris and possibly sucked into the storm.

If the tornado is far enough away and traffic is not at a standstill, try to drive at right angles away from it. Otherwise seeking shelter in a sturdy building or lying flat in a low spot away from trees and cars is your best bet.

If indoors, the safest place in a tornado is on the lowest floor, in an interior room without windows?

Fact.

Basements, storm cellars and reinforced `safe rooms` offer the most protection in a tornado. For buildings without these types of shelters, an interior room such as a closet, utility room or bathroom without windows on the lowest floor is your best option.

Tornadoes Don`t Occur in Autumn and Winter

Myth.

Major tornado outbreaks, including November 2013 deadly one in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan have occurred in autumn and winter.

Be sure to keep WeatherBug active to receive the latest weather in your neighborhood and get the latest updates anywhere on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of NOAA. Photo by D. Burgess.

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