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Debunking 6 common tornado myths

According to the National Weather Service, more than 1,000 tornadoes hit the United States every year. Because of the awesome nature of these destructive funnels, it’s not surprising that myths persist about their origins — and what can be done to combat their ferocity. Here are some myths that just won’t blow away.

1. Opening all the windows in your home during the tornado will prevent your home from exploding.

This myth stems from the idea that a tornado passing over a home will cause an extreme pressure differential — the air pressure in the home will be greater than that outside, causing the home to explode. This has never been proven, according to Nationwide. Moreover, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA), those who run around opening their windows while a tornado advances will only get hit by flying debris — and lose precious time that they should be spending seeking shelter.

Tornadoes do create a dramatic pressure differential, according to NOAA. But homes are not airtight and can equalize pressure even if the windows are closed. More importantly, if a tornado gets close enough your home, it can destroy it anyway, whether the windows are open or closed.

2. If you’re on the road, find shelter under an overpass.

It may be scary to face down a tornado on open ground, but doing so is far better than waiting out the twister under an overpass. First of all, according to Nationwide, if the gusts are strong enough, they can demolish the overpass, crushing you. Second, wind will get funneled under the overpass, creating a “wind tunnel effect,” according to NOAA. In other words, the wind under the overpass will be faster and stronger than the wind outside — and the debris caught in it will be traveling faster as well.

Instead of looking for shelter under an overpass, look for a building, NOAA advises. If that’s not possible, lie flat on the ground and cover your head.

3. Large cities are “tornado proof” because of their tall buildings. Mountains and large bodies of water also offer protection.

No place is tornado-proof. Tornadoes have struck near the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan and the Appalachian Trail, and even 10,000 feet up a mountain, according to NOAA. The absence of tornadoes in a city’s recent history should not be used as a yardstick for future risk. Large cities, including Houston, Nashville and Miami, all have sustained direct hits. And because tornadoes are five to 10 miles in height, even the tallest skyscraper would not be able to deflect them, NOAA says.

4. You can assess a tornado’s danger by looking at its size and shape.

The only way to determine a tornado’s true strength is through damage assessments conducted afterward, according to NOAA. The visible part of the funnel can change color, size and shape, depending on weather conditions, condensation and the amount of debris sucked up by the twister. So what you see doesn’t accurately reflect its potential for destruction.

5. Taking shelter in the southwest corner of your basement will minimize your chance of getting hit by debris.

Another tornado-related wives’ tale is that, because tornadoes usually come from the southwest, debris will get blown to the northeast. This is false, according to NOAA and Nationwide. Tornadoes move in all directions. Moreover, if a tornado hits your house, walls can collapse into any corner. During tornado warnings, seek shelter in the basement or at the lowest level of the building) away from furniture — it doesn’t matter what corner you go to.

6. Tornadoes never strike the same area more than once.

Some areas get battered multiple times simply because of bad luck. For instance, a town in Kansas was struck by a tornado three years in a row 1916 to 1918) on May 20, according to NOAA. A church in Guy, Ark., was smashed by three twisters in one day.

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