Debunking the Movie, Into the Storm

The movie Into the Storm makes its debut on August 8, with many folks, from your average Joe to hardcore meteorologists, looking forward to watching it. The movie is likely to spur misguided beliefs on tornadoes…just watch the official trailer:

Although this isn’t the first (or last) time that Hollywood dramatizes severe weather, we wanted to debunk some of the most popular tornado myths so you know before! Here are the top twister myths debunked by NOAA:

  • During a tornado, open all the windows in your home to equalize the pressure. This is a waste of valuable time. Don’t worry about equalizing the pressure, the roof ripping off and the tractor-trailer smashing through the front wall will equalize the pressure for you.
  • I live in a big city, a tornado wouldn’t hit a big city. Tornadoes have hit several large cities, including Dallas, Oklahoma City, Wichita Falls, St. Louis, Miami, and Salt Lake City. In fact, an urban tornado will have a lot more debris to toss around than a rural twister.
  • Tornadoes don’t happen in the mountains. Tornadoes do occur in the mountains. Damage from an F3 tornado was documented above 10,000 feet, and a hiker in the mountains of Utah photographed a weak tornado in the mountains.
  • My city doesn’t get tornadoes because it is protected by a river. Many tornadoes have crossed rivers and even gone on to cause widespread damage to riverside cities. For example, the Nachez, Mississippi tornado of 1840 tracked directly down the Mississippi River, killing hundreds, mostly on the water. Others have crossed large rivers without losing speed (they momentarily became water spouts) and devastated cities that folklore had thought immune to tornadoes. An example was the Waco, TX tornado of 1953 that crossed the Brazos River, or the Great St. Louis Cyclone of 1896 that jumped the Mississippi River.
  • Hiding under a freeway overpass will protect me from a tornado. While the concrete and re-bar in the bridge may offer some protection against flying debris, the overpass also acts as a wind tunnel and may actually serve to collect debris. When you abandon your vehicle at the overpass and climb up the sides, you are doing two things that are hazardous. First, you are blocking the roadway with your vehicle. When the tornado turns all the parked vehicles into a mangled, twisted ball and wedges them under the overpass, how will emergency vehicles get through? Second, the winds in a tornado tend to be faster with height. By climbing up off the ground, you place yourself in even greater danger from the tornado and flying debris. When coupled with the accelerated winds due to the wind tunnel (Venturi Effect), these winds can easily exceed 300 mph. Unfortunately, at least three people hiding under underpasses during tornadoes have already been killed, and dozens have been injured by flying debris. If you realize you won’t be able to outrun an approaching tornado, you are much safer to abandon your vehicle, and take shelter in a road-side ditch or other low spot. Note: If a highway overpass is your only shelter option, only consider it if the overpass has sturdy roadway supports, next to which (at ground level) you can take shelter. Avoid the smooth concrete, support-less spans at all costs.
  • I can outrun a tornado, especially in a vehicle. Tornadoes can move at up to 70 mph or more and shift directions erratically and without warning. It is unwise to try to outrace a tornado. It is better to abandon your vehicle and seek shelter immediately.
  • Strong, sturdy brick or stone buildings will protect me from a tornado. While such buildings will provide more protection in a tornado than a mobile home or timber frame structure, the winds of a tornado can easily launch a 2×4 through a brick wall, and can cause even the sturdiest of buildings to experience roof or wall failure.
  • To keep from being sucked into the tornado, can tie myself to a well pipe, just like they did in the movie “Twister”. While it is unlikely that a tornado will dislodge a deeply buried pipe, the rope you tie around yourself is more likely to act as a combination tetherball and cheese slicer. Lighter winds will likely cause you to be whipped around at the end of the rope, banging against anything within the radius of the rope. Stronger winds inside the tornado are just as likely to pull your body from the rope (and possibly not in one piece).
  • A tornado is not coming directly at me, I am safe. Tornados have been known to act erratically, often changing directions quickly. Sturdy shelter is the only safe place to be during a tornado. Although it may be tempting to follow a tornado to get a cool photo, please leave the tornado chasing to trained meteorologists.

We hope clarification to these myths help keep you safer during actual tornado events. Find out what you need to do before, during and after a tornado.

Be Prepared. Know Before™.

The WeatherBug – Earth Networks Team

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This entry was posted in Awareness, General, Tornadoes.