18 Tornado Myths

We’re still learning about tornadoes. Although many beliefs have been proven wrong over the years, we still hear and see outdated (and bad) advice touted as Gospel.

Here are 18 of the most common tornado myths.

Myth #1: Tornadoes Don’t Happen Here

Tornadoes can form anywhere thunderstorms occur.

Myth #2: Tornadoes Form from Green Clouds

Sunlight filtering through heavy storm clouds can cause an eerie yellow-green cast. The color has nothing to do with tornadoes. 

Myth #3: Tornadoes Only Hit Flat Land

Much of Tornado Alley happens to be fairly flat, but tornado-producing thunderstorms can happen just about anywhere.

Myth #4: Tornadoes Can’t Form in Winter

Winter tornadoes are rare, but they can form anytime thunderstorms occur.

Myth #5: Tornadoes Always Come from the Southwest

Prevailing winds in Tornado Alley tend to cause storms to move from southwest to northeast. But severe storms can come from other directions, too.

Myth #6: Tornadoes Travel in a Straight Line

Tornado movements aren’t predictable. Twisters spin and jump. Thunderstorms rotate and are driven by high-level winds. The resulting path often looks like a loop-de-loop.

Myth #7: Tornadoes Can’t Cross Water

Thunderstorms aren’t affected by lakes and rivers. Neither are tornadoes.

Myth #8: Tornadoes Never Strike the Same Place Twice

Many towns and cities (like Moore, Oklahoma) can testify that this is a myth.

Myth #9: You Can Always See Tornadoes Coming

Many times, tornadoes are hidden by rain or darkness.

Myth #10: Smaller Tornadoes Are Weaker

Large tornadoes often cause more damage simply due to their width and the increased length of time that structures are exposed to storm-force winds. Smaller tornadoes can actually have stronger winds because they can spin faster.

Myth #11: You’re Safe if the Tornado’s not Touching the Ground

A funnel cloud can be clear until it starts picking up dirt and debris. That’s when we call it a tornado. If you see a funnel cloud that’s not touching the ground, it could quickly turn into a tornado.

Myth #12: Tornadoes Don’t Hit Big Cities

Dallas, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Memphis … all have been hit by tornadoes.

Myth #13: Tornadoes Love Mobile Home Parks

Mobile homes are unable to withstand storm-force winds. The same EF0 or EF1 tornado that destroys a mobile home will barely damage a traditionally built house.

Myth #14: You Can Outrun a Tornado in Your Car

If tornadoes moved in straight lines and you had an empty highway ahead, you might actually pull it off. But you don’t want to be sitting in a traffic jam with a tornado coming.

Myth #15: You Can Shelter from a Tornado in Your Car

A tornado can turn a car into a twisted ball of metal and broken glass — not a great place to ride out the storm.

Myth #16: You Can Shelter from a Tornado in an Overpass

A highway overpass can provide protection from hail, but not from the extreme wind and flying debris in a tornado. The Venturi Effect can even cause windspeeds to increase as it goes under the overpass.

Myth #17: You Should Open Windows to Equalize Pressure

Years ago, people thought that a tornado’s low pressure could cause a house to explode. Now they know that extreme wind causes the damage, and opening windows is pointless.

Myth #18: You Should Go to the SW Corner of the Building

Since most storms come out of the southwest, this might actually be the worst place to seek shelter.

The only truly safe place to shelter from a tornado is in a storm shelter built to today’s standards. Otherwise, the best protection is usually in the center part of the building with as many walls as possible between you and the storm.

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