Common Myths About Tornadoes and Why They are not True

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Tornado Myth: Tornadoes are attracted to trailer parks.

Truth: Trailers are not tornado magnets but they are more susceptible to damage even from weak tornadoes. With more frequent occurrence of damage, it is assumed that tornadoes naturally head for trailer parks.

Mobile home residents are advised to have an escape plan in place that would include a sturdy structure or a storm shelter. Do not remain inside a trailer during a tornado.

Tornado Myth: Tornadoes can skip houses.

Truth: It has been observed that some houses remain standing while other houses in the immediate vicinity are destroyed. Studies by Dr Fujita indicate that the main funnel will not touch houses in very close range but there are smaller funnels called “multiple vortices” which appear to dart around the main funnel. If a house happens to be in the path of a one of these vortices, it can be destroyed.

Tornado Myth: Tornadoes don’t cross water or climb mountains.

Truth: Rivers, lakes and mountains do not provide natural barriers from tornadoes. The Tri-State Tornado which occurred in 1925 crossed the Wabash River and the Mississippi. The Windsor-Tecumseh Tornado of 1946 crossed over the Detroit River. Waterspouts are tornadoes crossing over bodies of water.

During the Super Outbreak in 1974, tornadoes hit the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and areas in the Appalachian Mountains. Weak tornadoes may be partially blocked by mountains but large and strong tornadoes are not stoppable.

Tornado Myth: Funnel size and shape determines the strength of a tornado.

Truth: A thin funnel cloud known as a “rope tornado” can be as strong as a wide-funneled “wedge tornado”. The ranking of a tornado is based on the Fujita Scale which categorizes tornadoes according to the degree of destruction. There have been F5 and F4 tornadoes generated from both narrow and wide funnels.

Tornado Myth: Tornadoes don’t hit big cities.

Truth: It is believed that skyscrapers can deflect a tornado but it’s not true. Tornadoes have hit large cities such as Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Fort Worth, Dallas, Miami, Nashville, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Omaha.

Urban areas only take up a very small percentage of land so most tornadoes are bound to hit open fields and small towns. It is believed that large cities emit a excessive heat thus creating a “heat island” that may avert small tornadoes. When it comes to big tornadoes, nothing will stop them!

Tornado Myth: Tornadoes are viewable at a distance so there is plenty of time to seek shelter.

Truth: Funnels are not always visible because they can be masked by heavy rainfall. A newly formed tornado may look like it has not touched down because the funnel may not be viewable in its entirety from ground to cloud.

Debris is collected by surface winds so by the time it is visible, the tornado is extremely close by.

Tornado Myth: Doppler radar will detect a tornado.

Truth: Doppler radar assists meteorologists by showing wind patterns and precipitation within storms. These readings indicate that the weather conditions could generate a tornado. When a tornado watch is issued, the weather conditions are favorable for a tornado. A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted.