Don’t Believe These Common South Dakota Tornado Myths
Sioux Falls, South Dakota may not be smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley, but we still get our share of severe thunderstorms. Thunder, rain, lighting, and tornadoes are all possible.
The thing about tornadoes is that they are very rare as well as very destructive. Most people probably won’t even see an actual twister in their life. But if they do it can be devastating.
Though they are rare, that infrequency has allowed a mythology to grow around them. That leads to myths that get passed around as fact
TORNADO MYTH #1: Sioux Falls is too big to be hit by a tornado.
Tornadoes can and do strike anywhere. Especially big ones.
“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.” – NOAA
TORNADO MYTH #2: Sioux Falls has a river. My uncle said something about the river.
A river does not offer any protection.
“The Osage Indians, native to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri passed on tornado legends to the early settlers. One such legend has it that tornadoes will not strike between two rivers, near the point where the rivers join….Emporia, Kansas, for instance, had sat "protected" between the Cottonwood and Neosho Rivers, in native Osage territory, for over a century. Emporia was free of damaging tornadoes until June 8, 1974 when a tornado killed six people and destroyed $20,000,000 worth of property on the northwest side of town. Another tornado did $6,000,000 in damage along the west side of Emporia on June 7, 1990...” –Tornado Project
TORNADO MYTH #3: How about a hill or some other hill-type thing?
With all due respect to grandpa, the idea that any place is protected is wrong. The absence of an event does not prove any protection.
“The idea that one's town is "protected" is a combination of wishful thinking, short memory, the rarity of tornadoes” – Tornado Project.
Before the era of satellite and radar, there was no reliable way to know where every tornado touched down. What was farmland in 1960 could be the middle of an urban neighborhood today. Tornadoes can touch down anywhere, just because nobody remembers it happening before doesn’t mean it will not. Ridges and rivers are not magic.
TORNADO MYTH #4: Open the windows! Why? Air pressure or something.
Don’t waste your time. Stay away from the windows and get underground. Hail, debris, or wind can turn window glass into dangerous missiles. Let alone what a twister could do the house.
“This is a myth and just wastes valuable time. Don't worry about equalizing the pressure, the roof ripping off or debris smashing through windows or walls will equalize the pressure for you.” -NOAA
TORNADO MYTH #5: Get under the overpass or drive away really fast.
Don’t do either. Tornadoes can travel 70 mph or more and move unpredictably. Plus, you don’t know what is around the bend in the road, a pile-up or debris will end the chase quickly.
And don’t hide under the overpass. A lot of us have seen videos of people doing this and not being picked up and thrown around or getting hit with debris. But they were very lucky.
“Vehicles are extremely risky in a tornado. There is no safe option when caught in a tornado in a car, just slightly less-dangerous ones. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Seek shelter in a sturdy building, or underground if possible. If you are caught by extreme winds or flying debris, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat, or other cushion if possible. If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway,leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.” -NOAA
If you are outside and cannot quickly find shelter, the old standby is still the best: lie flat in a ditch and cover your head.
The best place to be in a tornado is a small, interior room on the lowest floor of a building, in the basement if possible.
We don’t need to be at battle stations all spring and summer or freak out every time it gets cloudy. We do need to think, prep, and pay attention.
KEEP READING: What to do after a tornado strikes
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