Living in the Central Plains, those of us in Nebraska and Iowa are well-versed in severe weather and how to protect ourselves. Of course, with all the learning and life-experience we have, some not-so-factual pieces of lore tend to work themselves into our general vernacular of tornado information.
As evidenced in the Chicago suburbs early Monday morning, it is simply NOT true that tornadoes cannot hit big cities. We have seen tornadoes in Omaha and Lincoln, too, further proof that tornadoes can and do hit big cities. This will keep happening in the future, too, especially as cities continue to expand in size.
Some people will also claim tornadoes cannot it the same place twice. Also, false. Many of us can remember the "Night of the Twisters" in Grand Island, NE where several tornadoes impacted the city over a few hours. And it seems Moore, Oklahoma seems to get struck by a tornado every couple of years.
Growing up in Columbus, I often heard people say, "tornadoes won't hit us here because we're in a valley." Which, again, is not true. Tornadoes can easily traverse over mountains and down valleys just as well as marching across the flat Plains. A tornado won't magically lift as soon as it comes up to a mountain or valley.
Another common myth was that you should open all the windows in your house before a tornado hits to try to cancel out the drop in pressure so your windows would not bust. Opening your windows will waste valuable time better spent getting to your shelter or basement. To reiterate, do not waste time trying to open your windows as a tornado approaches you. Seek shelter instead!
If you find yourself in the path of a tornado while driving, the biggest thing you should not do is stop under an overpass. If you park there and then try to get into the space between the overpass and the section underneath, you could be hit with debris if the tornado strikes your spot. There is also very little for you to protect yourself underneath there. Wind speeds can even increase a bit in such a tight spot. Parking under an overpass can also clog up the roadway, making it impassable for emergency vehicles trying to provide lifesaving help. Long story short, it is just a terrible idea so don't do it!
The myth of taking shelter in the southwest corner of your house came from the belief that all tornadoes moved from southwest to northeast. In this instance, a tornado would hit the southwest corner first and then push any debris to the northeast as it moved through the area. Now, of course, we know tornadoes can move in and come from any direction. It is safest to be in the lowest level of your house and in the center, away from windows. If you have a piece of heavy furniture to get under or a staircase to be under, that is good, too. And do not forget to put your helmet on, too, to help protect your head and neck.
While tornadoes are most common in the spring and early summer here in Nebraska and Iowa, it is important to remember that tornadoes can (and do) happen at any time of the year. In fact, just a few years ago I remember tornado warnings being issued in south-central Nebraska on Christmas Day!
When we see any type of damage after a big storm, it is easy to say, "it MUST have been a tornado!" However, strong wind gusts can be just as strong, if not stronger, than a weak tornado and can cause damage, too. This is why the National Weather Service sends out damage survey teams to see if damage was caused by strong, straight-line winds or a tornado.
So, as we continue through the rest of severe weather season (and keep an eye out for tornadoes all year long), remember these myths and learn the real information to help keep you safe!