Cheyenne, WY (KGWN) - Growing up, Twister was one of my favorite movies, but it was soon very clear after I started studying meteorology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, that the film was full of bad science and misrepresentations. So, I've decided to look at 10 different topics and dive a little deeper into them, determining whether they are weather myths... or weather facts.
So our first topic today is the idea that if you are caught out in the open and a tornado is bearing down upon you, that you should take shelter underneath an overpass. Seems like a pretty reasonable idea as it would give you some shelter from the storm as opposed to just lying in a ditch, but this just isn't the case. This is a myth.
An overpass is the very last place you'd want to take shelter from a tornado. The overpass itself acts as a wind funnel, increasing the already powerful winds from the tornado's circulation. Not only does it amplify the winds, but it also is a shooting range for debris.
Winds at the surface of the earth are actually non-existent, so that's why you want to get as low as you can. If you take shelter in a ditch, you are essentially "below ground" and hopefully the tornadoes circulation will pass right over the top of you.
The second topic deals with weather fatalities. We've all seen footage from the Super Outbreak of tornadoes across Alabama from 2011 and the Joplin, Missouri tornado. There's a common belief out there that because tornadoes can be so violent that they are the deadliest weather event that we see in the United States, but in fact, this is a myth. Flooding, on average, kills more people every year in the United States than tornadoes.
According to the NWS, on average, flooding kills 90 people every year while tornadoes are responsible for around 75 deaths a year. This however does depend on the year, for instance, in 2011 during the Super Outbreak over 500 people were killed from these deadly tornadoes, but in 1900, over 6,000 people were killed from storm surge flooding from a hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas.
Over half of the flood related deaths are vehicle related where people think that because they know an area, they can drive through flooded roads because they know how deep it is. In reality, they don't actually know if the road is still there as it could have been washed away. It only takes 6 inches of water to wash away most low-profile vehicles while 2 feet of water will basically wash away any car.
Make sure you tune in next week, as Meteorologist Samantha Thomas will have the next installment of Weather Facts and Weather Myths, this one dealing with lightning.