Sioux Falls, South Dakota may not be smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley, but we still get our share of severe thunderstorms. Thunder, rain, lighting, and tornadoes are all possible.

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.

We don’t need to be at battle stations all spring and summer or freak out every time it gets cloudy. We do need to think, prep, and pay attention.

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Before we get to the tornado myths, let's cover some basics. Like \what a tornado is, and what is a tornado warning. Here are the answers:

What is a Tornado?

Some call them Twisters or Cyclones, but they all mean the same thing: a column of air reaching from the ground to a storm.

Tornados come out of severe thunderstorms. Severe thunderstorms are dangerous enough in their own right. They can and do dump lots of rain and hail on South Dakota. They also can produce strong, non-tornadic winds.

Severe thunderstorms do more damage every year than tornados. Chances are a severe thunderstorm will hit Sioux Falls every year, but they don't always produce tornados.

What is a Tornado Watch or a Tornado Warning?

When the conditions are favorable for tornados, the National Weather Service will issue a Tornado Watch. These alerts usually cover a large area and are in effect for several hours. Their purpose is to let people know that severe weather may develop.

When a tornado, rotation in a thunderstorm, or suspected tornado is observed or indicated with radar, the National Weather Service will issue a Tornado Warning. The Warning means a tornado has, or is, forming. These alerts usually cover a smaller area (like a county) and last usually less than an hour.

If a Watch or Warning is issued for Minnehaha or Lincoln County, PAY ATTENTION! Check-in with radio stations, TV, or the National Weather Service. Find out where the storm is and be ready to take cover if necessary.

What is a Funnel Cloud?

You may hear people talking about funnel clouds. Basically, they are tornados that haven't touched the ground yet.

What are Tornado Sirens

The Tornado Sirens, AKA the Outdoor Warning System, are sirens in different places all around the city. The sirens are activated by the City of Sioux Falls Emergency Management Department when a tornado warning is issued for Sioux Falls.

The sirens are meant to alert people that are outside, don't rely on them for warning while you're inside.

Remember: The Sioux Falls tornado sirens are tested on the first Friday of the month at 11:00 AM, depending on the weather.

REMEMBER: May 30, 1998: Deadly Tornado Nearly Destroys South Dakota Town

Don't Believe These Common Tornado Myths

Though they are rare, that infrequency has allowed a mythology to grow around them. That leads to myths that get passed around as fact

TORNADO MYTH #1: Sioux Falls is too big to be hit by a tornado.

Tornadoes can and do strike anywhere. Especially big ones.

Many cities in the U.S. have been directly hit by tornadoes in recent years including Miami, Salt Lake City, Birmingham, Oklahoma City, Houston, Fort Worth, Nashville and Joplin MO....Tornadoes are typically 5 to 10 miles tall.  A tall building with a height of 500 to 1000 feet can not deflect or destroy a tornado.



TORNADO MYTH #2: 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


TORNADO 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. The 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 satellites 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.

TORNADO 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 to the house.

“This is a myth and just wastes valuable time. Don't worry about equalizing the pressure, the roof ripping off or debris smashing through windows or walls will equalize the pressure for you.” -Univeristy of Nebraska


TORNADO 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 videos of people doing this and not being picked up and thrown around or getting hit with debris. But they were very lucky.

“Vehicles are extremely risky in a tornado. There is no safe option when caught in a tornado in a car, just slightly less-dangerous ones. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Seek shelter in a sturdy building, or underground if possible. If you are caught by extreme winds or flying debris, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat, or other cushions if possible. If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.” -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.


KEEP READING: What to do after a tornado strikes

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