The 7 Biggest Tornado Safety Myths & Misconceptions

John Lund/Blend Images/Getty Images

There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about tornadoes, their behavior, and ways to increase your safety from them. They may sound like great ideas, but be cautious—acting according to some of these myths may actually increase the danger to you and your family. 

Here's a look at 7 of the most popular tornado myths you should stop believing. 

of 07

Myth: Tornadoes Have a Season

Since tornadoes can form at any time of the year, they technically don't have a season. (Whenever you hear the phrase "tornado season" being used, it's usually in reference to the two times of the year when tornadoes occur most frequently: the spring and fall.)

of 07

Myth: Opening Windows Equalizes Air Pressure

At one time, it was thought that when a tornado (which has very low pressure) neared a house (having higher pressure) the air inside would push outward on its walls, essentially making the house or building "explode." (This is due to air's tendency to travel from areas of higher to lower pressure.) Opening a window was meant to prevent this by equalizing pressure. However, merely opening windows doesn't alleviate this pressure difference. It does nothing but allow the wind and debris to freely enter your house.

of 07

Myth: A Bridge or Overpass Will Protect You

According to the National Weather Service, seeking shelter under a highway overpass can actually be more dangerous than standing in an open field when a tornado is approaching. Here's why... When a tornado passes over an overpass, its winds whip underneath the bridge's narrow passage creating a "wind tunnel" and increasing wind speed. The increased winds can then easily sweep you out from underneath the overpass and up into the midst of the storm and its debris.

If you're in transit when a tornado strikes, the safest option is to find a ditch or other low spot and lie flat in it. 

of 07

Myth: Tornadoes Don't Hit Big Cities

Tornadoes can develop anywhere. If they seem to occur less often in major cities, its because the percentage of metropolitan areas in the U.S. is significantly less than that of the nation's rural areas. Another reason for this disparity is that the region where tornadoes most often occur (Tornado Alley) contains few large cities.

Some notable examples of tornadoes hitting major cities include an EF2 that touched down in the Dallas metro area in April 2012, an EF2 that tore through downtown Atlanta in March 2008, and an EF2 that hit the Brooklyn, NY in August 2007.    

of 07

Myth: Tornadoes Don't Happen in the Mountains

While it's true that tornadoes are less common over mountainous regions, they still occur there. Some notable mountain tornadoes include the 1987 Teton-Yellowstone F4 tornado that traveled above 10,000 ft (Rocky Mountains) and the EF3 that struck Glade Spring, VA in 2011 (Appalachian Mountains). 

The reason why mountain tornadoes aren't as frequent has to do with the fact that cooler, more stable air (which isn't favorable for severe weather development) is generally found at higher elevations. In addition, storm systems moving from west to east often weaken or break up when they encounter the friction and rough terrain of a mountain's windward side.  

of 07

Myth: Tornadoes Only Move Over Flat Land

Just because tornadoes are often observed traveling over miles of flat, open terrain, such as the Great Plains, doesn't mean they can't travel across rugged land or climb to higher elevations (although doing so can weaken them significantly).

Tornadoes aren't limited to traveling only on land. They can also move over bodies of water (at which point they become waterspouts). 

of 07

Myth: Seek Shelter in the Southwest Part of Your Home

This belief comes from the idea that tornadoes usually arrive from the southwest, in which case the debris will be blown to the northeast. However, tornadoes may arrive from any direction, not just the southwest. Likewise, because tornadic winds are rotating rather than straight-line (straight-line winds would push debris in the same direction as it is blowing—from the southwest and toward the northeast), the strongest winds may also blow from any direction and carry debris to any side of your home.  

For these reasons, the southwest corner is considered no safer than any other corner.