Survival

Tornado Survival Tips, by Matthew Stein, P.E.

Tornado Facts and Myths

  • It is commonly believed that tornadoes happen mostly in the spring, but the peak of tornado season varies with location, and tornadoes can occur any month of the year. For example, the peak of tornado season in the northern plains and upper Midwest is June or July, but it is from May to early June in the southern plains and even earlier in the spring for the Gulf Coast.
  • There is a myth that tornadoes can only spawn and strike in relatively flat areas, but they have actually occurred in high areas of the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and Appalachian Mountains. Though more frequent in the flatter areas of the plains states and the southeast, tornadoes have been spotted in such varied locations as Vermont, upstate New York, Nevada, and one hiker spotted and photographed a tornado at 12,000 feet in the Sequoia National Park of California.
  • A common myth is that trailer parks attract tornadoes. They certainly do not attract tornadoes, but due to their light weight and lack of heavy-duty anchoring to strong structural foundations, trailers are extremely vulnerable to damage from tornadoes.
  • Another common myth is that you should open your windows to allow the pressure to equalize should a tornado strike your home. Do not waste your time opening windows. If a tornado strikes, it will blow out the windows, and the last place you should be is near a window, where there is the greatest danger from flying debris and glass.
  • There is a common myth that owing to the direction of rotation of tornadoes in the Northern Hemisphere the southwest corner of a building is the safest place to be. This myth is totally false. Corners are areas of buildings that are most prone to damage. The safest areas are in the center of the building in a windowless room or closet, and on the lowest level (in the basement if there is one).
  • There is a common myth that highway overpasses provide protection from tornadoes. In fact, the underside of a highway overpass often acts as a wind tunnel, channeling high winds and debris, and there are a number of reported deaths of people who parked under an overpass while seeking shelter from approaching tornadoes.

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