5 Severe Weather Myths That May Get You in Big Trouble
I'm happiest when Mother Nature isn't trying to kill me. America experiences more severe weather than any nation on Earth. It's a function of our geography: access to mountains, cool breezes out of Canada and hot, muggy air rising up from the Gulf of Mexico. The result is a smorgasbord of wild weather, and if you're not careful or paying attention, you can easily get into trouble. Here are a few of my favorite weather myths:
1). The rain has stopped. That means the lightning risk is over.
Wrong. The most dangerous times in a thunderstorm are at the very beginning and end of the storm, when it's not raining. This is when most people are struck and killed by "bolts from the blue". When you hear the first growl of thunder it's time to move into a building or vehicle to lower the risk of being struck. Remember the 30-30 rule. If you can count 30 seconds between the "flash" and the "bang", head indoors. Then wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunderclap before resuming your outdoor activities.
2). Tornadoes don't strike towns or suburbs.
Wrong. I still run into grown adults, smart people, who somehow believe living in a cul de sac will protect them from nature's deadliest wind. A large tornado is a little like a bear in the woods: it will go wherever it wants to go. It's good to have a Tornado Plan and practice, just in case the thunderstorm overhead spawns a twister. Lake Superior tends to kill off many tornadic storms, but not all.
3). Safest place in a tornado is southwest corner of my basement.
False. Studies show that the safest place to ride out a wild storm, with or without a tornado, is the center of a basement, under the stairs. Even if your home suffers a direct hit chances are you'll walk away unhurt. Debris often piles up in the southwest corner, so avoid that area altogether.
4). My pickup truck has a high enough clearance for me to drive through flooded streets!
Um, no. All it takes is 2 feet of rapidly-moving water to turn your favorite pickup truck or SUV into a boat floating helplessly downstream. Bad idea. As NOAA instructs: "Turn around, don't drown". Live to fight another day.
5). If a tornado is approaching while driving on an interstate highway seek shelter under a bridge.
False. It may protect you from hail dings (while endangering people behind you on the highway) but research shows a "wind tunnel effect" underneath bridge overpasses that can cause tornado winds to accelerate. The risk of being hit by flying debris increases under a bridge. Your best bet: if you can't reach a gas station or other building seek shelter in a ditch by the side of the highway.
With any luck you will never need to use any of these weather nuggets, but it's always good to be a little paranoid with extreme weather. If you do the right thing, without even thinking about it, you can survive almost anything Mother Nature throws your way.
And live to tell your grandkids about it.