In life there are so many rules. They often balance out as what to do and what not to do. Spring is well known as a stormy season and for some parts of the country more than others. This is tornado season throughout most of the United States. There are particular areas that have the highest risk that take on the title of “Tornado Alley.”
Here in the Pacific Northwest tornadoes do occur, but they are relatively rare. There are a lot of rules that I’m sure you have heard before and possibly some you have never heard. The problem is that for many years some of those rules were proven to be wrong. Dead wrong! That’s why I thought it would be a good idea to correct the mistakes that have been taught so that you will not put yourself in jeopardy doing what you think is right when in fact it is not.
According to a recent article by Midland / Midland News published on midlands.com the National Weather Service is attempting to correct many misconceptions the public may have regarding what to do and particularly what not to do when the threat of tornadoes exists. Back when I first started my career as a TV weatherman there were certain rules that the National Weather Service told us could help save lives. In the years since, research and tornado statistics have reversed the thinking on some of the first rules we would broadcast to the public.
To me the first one on the list is “When a tornado is approaching open windows on opposite sides of the house to equalize the pressure.” That is a definite no-no today. It has been found that more people were injured by flying glass from their windows due to wind gusts or debris smashing them while being opened. That means never open those windows with an approaching storm. It does nothing to equalize the air pressure.
If you saw the movie “Twister” I’m sure you remember the scene where they take shelter under a small wooden bridge and hang on to the support posts. In reality, being under that bridge or even a larger concrete bridge only increases the force of the wind from the approaching tornado and in all probability will act as a wind tunnel and pull you out into the funnel.
If you are in your motor vehicle (car, truck,SUV) and the twister is coming toward you either stay put in your car or drive away as fast as you can. Both of those pieces of advice are wrong and could be dead wrong. Cars are often tossed around by the severe winds and even lifted into the air and then dropped back down to earth. Back in the 1970s when I was working in Eau Claire, Wisconsin a tornado picked up a car driven by a man who thought he could out-run the funnel. It lofted his car into the air, spun it around, and tossed him out. He fell to his death, in of all places, a cemetery with his head crushed by one of the headstones there.
A National Weather Service employee with over 20 years of storm experience told me that he was driving his car and saw a tornado approaching. There was no shelter nearby so he decided to drive s fast as he could to what he knew to be the nearest shelter. He could see that the road would take him away from the storm, however when he looked in his rear view mirror he saw that it was catching up to him. You see, the road had a slight bend in it that he didn’t know was curving him into the path of the oncoming tornado. He quickly stopped his car, got out and laid down in a roadside ditch. He told me he would never do that again, because it was shear luck that he wasn’t killed due to his own carelessness. That means get out of the car and hunker down as quickly as you can if you are caught in the situation where there is no solid building for you to enter.
Another debunked rule is to hide under a bench in the southwest corner of your basement. Hiding under the bench is a good idea, but which area of the basement it is in makes no difference. From what I remember being told years ago, the thinking was that that highest percentage of tornadoes move from southeast to northwest so being in the southwest corner would help keep you out of the tornado’s worst winds because it would roll over you faster taking the damage path away from you. That is absolutely wrong. Over the years of statistics collected by the National Weather service there is no one direction which predominates over others as the path most twisters take. They can and do move in from any direction and often change directions quickly. One of the safest places to be is an basement of first floor interior room with a short roof span like a closet with your head covered with some protection like a hard hat or even a pillow. An interior bathroom can be safer with you covered up in the bathtub as long as there are no glass shower doors or a window that could shatter spraying you with shards of broken glass.
Another old wives’ tale is that mobile homes are magnets for tornadoes. It would seem that is true, but it is not. Mobile home parks are built on low flat land so as to accommodate as many homes as possible to make up a neighborhood. It just so happens that tornadoes tend to move over low flat land and that is where mobile home parks are located. Also the homes are not built into the ground with concrete foundations. Their lighter frames are easily pulled apart even by a tornado that just passes close by.
I’ll give you one more negative rule. Just as when a building is on fire, if there is a tornado approaching do not take elevators. If the power is cut off you can be stuck and if the building takes a direct hit you would be in a very vulnerable position.
Now I have given you the list of don’ts in tornado weather. Historically, Oregon averages only one tornado per year in the entire state and no one has ever been killed here as a direct result of a tornado. Don’t let those numbers fool you into thinking it can’t or won’t happen near you. Always be aware of the weather conditions and as the Boy Scout motto says “Be Prepared.”
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].