The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

April 26, 2014

Debunking weather myths

ENID, Okla. — There are some old weather adages most Oklahomans know by heart that are just plain wrong.

Things your parents or teachers told you to do as a child no longer may apply to staying safe during severe weather.

Enid and Garfield County Certified Emergency Management Director Mike Honigsberg said some of those old tips could end up getting someone hurt.

For example, during a tornado, the bathtub might not be the safest place to be, depending on how old your tub is.

“The bathtub really isn’t the best place in the world to be during a tornado,” he said. “The center of the house is.”

With newer building materials, many modern bathtubs are no longer made of steel and just aren’t thick enough to handle a tornado.

“The (new) tubs won’t take a direct hit from a 2x4 anymore,” he said. “A tub might give you some protection.”

He also said the thinking of being close to a home’s pipes is the sturdiest place to be, also can be false.

“A lot of people think being near the pipes that run into the ground will help, but a lot of those pipes are plastic now,” he said. “The lowermost part of your house and the center-most part of your house is the best place to be.”

Another misconception for when tornadoes strike is hiding under a bridge or overpass.

“The problem with hiding underneath an overpass is that it becomes a suction zone. The way a lot of the overpasses are built, there is no way to get into a safe place,” he said. “You’re just putting yourself into a vortex, a  wind tunnel area, so you can get sucked out of there easily. It’s just not a safe place to be.”

Honigsberg said those who are traveling while there is a possibility of severe weather need to be well informed of what the weather is doing.

“If you are going to be traveling, check the weather along your route,” he said. “It’s not difficult, especially with all the things you can do on your computer.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center, opening your home’s windows during a tornado to “equalize pressure” not only is false, but also can be dangerous.

“Opening the windows is absolutely useless, a waste of precious time and can be very dangerous,” Honigsberg said. “Don’t do it. You may be injured by flying glass trying to do it. And if the tornado hits your home, it will blast the windows open anyway,” according to the SPC.

The center also says the myth of the southwest corner of a basement being the safest part of a basement isn’t always true.

“The southwest corner is no safer than any other part of the basement, because walls, floors and furniture can collapse (or be blown) into any corner. The ‘safe southwest corner’ is an old myth based on the belief that, since tornadoes usually come from the southwest, the debris will preferentially fall in the northeast side of the basement.”

According to the SPC, tornadoes are not straight-line winds, and the strongest winds can blow from any direction. Tornadoes themselves may arrive from any direction.

“In a basement, the safest place is under a sturdy workbench, mattress or other such protection — and out from under any heavy furniture or appliances resting on top of the floor above.”

However, some old weather adages still hold some truth, such as talking on a landline telephone during thunderstorms.

“For those who still have them, you need to be off those during lightning storms, because you can get electrocuted if lightning hits your house,” Honigsberg said.

He said another lightning-related truism is: ‘If you can hear thunder, you can be hit by lightning.”

“Lightning is virtually the No. 1 killer out there,” Honigsberg said. “Thunder is just the evidence there is lightning present.”

According to NOAA, lightning often strikes outside the area of heavy rain, and may strike as far as 10 miles from any rainfall.

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