Myths are fascinating. It’s incredible what kind of stuff people will believe if you make it sound authoritative enough (see: chemtrails), but some of those myths are downright dangerous. Here are five popular weather myths that could kill you one day if you actually believe in them.
This past weekend, I appeared as a guest on The Weather Channel’s Sunday talk show WXGeeks, in which host Dr. Marshall Shepherd and I spoke extensively about the various weather myths people believe for some reason. These untruths (to say the least) are so popular and widespread that they could cost lives someday, so even if it sounds like common sense not to believe them, there are people who think this is all sound advice.
1) You should open your windows before a tornado/hurricane.
This myth got its start in popular culture before we knew much about these fierce windstorms, back when people thought that it was the pressure difference between the inside of your house and the inside of a tornado/hurricane that caused a building to seemingly explode when the storm hit.
We know better these days—it’s the wind and debris swirling around that destroys your house—so why do people still believe we should open the windows before a tornado? The fact that your grandma told you this 50 years ago doesn’t make it true. Opening your windows before a tornado (or a hurricane, for that matter) makes it easier for wind and debris to get in your house, putting you in danger and making it easier for the wind to destroy your home from the inside out.
Let’s be honest—if you take a direct hit from a tornado, your windows will probably break anyway, but keeping them closed makes it just a little bitharder for wind and debris to get inside.
(Related: Taping your windows before a hurricane doesn’t prevent the glass from shattering, but it can hold the glass together so you’re dealing with larger, more manageable pieces as opposed to hundreds of tiny slivers if the window breaks.)
2) Tornadoes can’t hit cities or cross bodies of water or cross mountains or...
There are lots of myths that revolve around what tornadoes supposedly can’t hit. Outside of the Arctic and maybe the tallest mountain peaks, there are virtually no populated spots on Earth immune to a tornado.
The biggest falsehood floating around is that tornadoes can’t hit downtown areas, with the prevailing thought behind this myth stating that the mass of buildings will disrupt the wind patterns and keep a tornado from forming. That’s bunk. There was some speculation a few decades ago that buildings might have a deterring effect on tornadoes, but we’ve seen time and time again that tornadoes can and do strike downtown areas.
An EF-2 tornado struck downtown Atlanta on March 14, 2008, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to property in the area. The storm caused immense structural and superficial damage to skyscrapers downtown, blowing out hundreds of windows and sending shards of glass raining down onto the streets below. The tornado also came very close to the Georgia Dome, where thousands of people were inside as the tornado caused the roof to ripple above them.
In recent years, tornadoes have also struck the densely-populated areas of Fort Worth, Brooklyn, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Mobile, Miami, Raleigh, and Springfield, Massachusetts. If you live in a downtown area, you are not immune from a tornado. You have benefited from the same dumb luck as those who live in the suburbs and haven’t been hit.
Tornadoes can easily cross bodies of water. The F4 tornado that caused significant damage in La Plata, Maryland, back on April 28, 2002, continued roaring right over the Chesapeake Bay and made landfall on the Delmarva Peninsula, going on to produce F3 damage a mile or two inland.
Not only that, but the strongest tornado ever recorded tore through Bridgeport, Newcastle, and Moore in Oklahoma back on May 3, 1999. The tornado’s path took it directly over the Canadian River—not as big as the Chesapeake, of course, but rivers are one of those boundaries people think will save them (which don’t).
While tornadoes are certainly far less common in mountainous areas than they are in flatter areas like Kansas, tornadoes can and do occur in the mountains. An Alabama resident captured a great video (above) of a powerful tornado tearing across rough terrain with ease during the outbreak on April 27, 2011.
3) Lightning strike victims are still electrified. (???)
I hadn’t heard about this one until a couple of months ago. Where did this come from? Why would anyone actually think that? People who are struck by lightning are no longer electrified unless they’re resting on a live power line or their fingers are jammed in an electrical outlet.
It is possible to rescue a flatlined lightning strike victim by performing CPR (all chest compressions) until trained responders arrive, but for some inexplicable reason, some people refuse to touch folks struck by lightning for fear of getting zapped themselves.
If someone is struck by lightning, freakin’ help them.
4) Hurricanes don’t hit New England.
There was a time in the not too distant past where we frequently heard “hurricanes don’t make landfall here” from smug New Yorkers trying to assert why the Big Apple is superior to everyone else. Well, you don’t hear that much from them anymore, but the idea that hurricanes can’t survive up to a place like Boston or Portland, Maine, is still too prevalent.
Hurricanes can and do make it all the way up to Canada. Due to its location and the typical direction hurricanes travel, it’s rare for a hurricane to directly strike New England, but rarity doesn’t mean immunity.
The last time a hurricane made landfall in New England was 1991’s Hurricane Bob, which struck Rhode Island from the south and continued over Massachusetts, Maine, and Atlantic Canada. Other notable hurricanes to heavily impact New England were 1985’s Hurricane Gloria, 1960’s Hurricane Donna, and the “Long Island Express” hurricane of 1938.
Again, rare, but not impossible.
5) Driving through a flooded roadway is fine.
We’ve been through this before. For whatever reason, so many people seem to think that it’s okay to drive through a flooded roadway. Either they’ve done it before or they’ve seen other people do it with no issue, it’s incredibly risky and odds are that you won’t make it.
It only takes a few inches of swiftly-moving water to lift a car and hurl it downstream, and it takes a surprisingly small amount of water to lift even larger vehicles like trucks and SUVs and send their occupants into a harrowing situation at best to a violent, watery death at worst.
Don’t drive through a flooded roadway. You’re not only risking your life, but the lives of your rescuers in the process. (Plus, even if you survive, the nasty chemicals and organisms in the water could make you very, very sick.)
BONUS: The cold can make you sick.
One of the stock lines from the Great Book of Mom Sayings is “The cold will make you sick.” Fortunately for cold lovers near and far, the cold itself doesn’t directly make you sick. But viruses like the flu can linger longer in cold, dry weather, and when you add that to the fact that you’re indoors for most of the winter, it’s a recipe for a sneezetastrophe of epic proportions.
Wear your coat so you don’t get hypothermia and die, but you won’t catch a cold from the cold. (Sorry mom.)
You can find more myth debunking, fascinating weather explainers, and hands-on survival tips in my new book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, which is now available! You can order it from Amazon and find it on the shelves and websites of retailers near you.