Rivers, Hills, Open Windows – Don’t Believe These Common Tornado Myths
Sioux Falls may not be smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley, but we still get our share of spring and summer storms. Thunder, rain, lighting, and tornadoes are all possible. Tornadoes get a lot of attention because of their dramatic ability to spread death and destruction.
The thing about tornadoes is that they are very rare as well as very destructive. Most people probably won’t even see an actual twister in their life. But if they do it can be devastating. Though they are rare, that infrequency has allowed a mythology to grow around them. That leads to myths that get passed around as fact
MYTH #1: Sioux Falls is too big to be hit by a tornado.
Tornadoes can and do strike anywhere. Especially big ones.
“Tornadoes have hit several large cities, including Dallas, Oklahoma City, Wichita Falls, St. Louis, Miami, and Salt Lake City. In fact, an urban tornado will have a lot more debris to toss around than a rural twister.” – NOAA
MYTH #2: But Sioux Falls has a river. My uncle said something about the river.
A river does not offer any protection.
“The Osage Indians, native to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri passed on tornado legends to the early settlers. One such legend has it that tornadoes will not strike between two rivers, near the point where the rivers join….Emporia, Kansas, for instance, had sat "protected" between the Cottonwood and Neosho Rivers, in native Osage territory, for over a century. Emporia was free of damaging tornadoes until June 8, 1974 when a tornado killed six people and destroyed $20,000,000 worth of property on the northwest side of town. Another tornado did $6,000,000 in damage along the west side of Emporia on June 7, 1990...” –Tornado Project
MYTH #3: How about a hill or some other hill type thing?
With all due respect to grandpa, the idea that any place is protected is wrong. Absence of an event does not prove any protection.
“The idea that one's town is "protected" is a combination of wishful thinking, short memory, the rarity of tornadoes” – Tornado Project.
Before the era of satellite and radar there was no reliable way to know where every tornado touched down. What was farmland in 1960 could be the middle of an urban neighborhood today. Tornadoes can touch down anywhere, just because nobody remembers it happening before doesn’t mean it will not. Ridges and rivers are not magic.
MYTH #4: Open the windows! Why? Air pressure or something.
Don’t waste your time. Stay away from the windows and get underground. Hail, debris or wind can turn window glass into dangerous missiles. Let alone what a twister could do the house.
“Don't worry about equalizing the pressure, the roof ripping off and the pickup truck smashing through the front wall will equalize the pressure for you.” -NOAA
MYTH #5: Get under the overpass or drive away really fast.
Don’t do either. Tornadoes can travel 70 mph or more and move unpredictably. Plus, you don’t know what is around the bend in the road, a pile up or debris will end the chase quickly.
And don’t hide under the overpass. A lot of us have seen video of people doing this and not being picked up and thrown around or getting hit with debris. But they were very lucky.
“While the concrete and re-bar in the bridge may offer some protection against flying debris, the overpass also acts as a wind tunnel and may actually serve to collect debris. When you abandon your vehicle at the overpass and climb up the sides, you are doing two things that are hazardous. First, you are blocking the roadway with your vehicle. When the tornado turns all the parked vehicles into a mangled, twisted ball and wedges them under the overpass, how will emergency vehicles get through? Second, the winds in a tornado tend to be faster with height. By climbing up off the ground, you place yourself in even greater danger from the tornado and flying debris. When coupled with the accelerated winds due to the wind tunnel (Venturi Effect), these winds can easily exceed 300 mph.” -NOAA
If you are outside and cannot quickly find shelter, the old standby is still the best: lie flat in a ditch and cover your head.
The best place to be in a tornado is a small, interior room on the lowest floor of a building, in the basement if possible.