Common Myths in Tornado Alley

A massive tornado rampages across a grassy plain in the Midwest

While tornadoes can occur anywhere, they are largely contained to a very specific stretch of land in the Continental US. This strip of land, called Tornado Alley, is comprised of states including Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Texas. However, the exact makeup of Tornado Alley isn’t set in stone, as it’s more of a colloquial term than scientific fact.

In either event, the region’s high level of tornadoes has led to the powerful weather patterns leaving a mark in the minds of those who live there. Tornadoes are unpredictable and dangerous, so it’s not surprising that people who encounter them could create superstitions about them. Here are some of the most prolific myths from Tornado Alley about the dangerous twisters that frequent the area.

Common Tornado Alley Myths

Opening Windows

One common myth holds that you can lessen the damage a tornado will do to your home by opening the windows. The idea behind this myth is that tornadoes have such lower internal atmospheric pressure that when they pass over your home, if the windows are closed, the rushing air pressure from within can cause them to explode.

This is a myth, however: if a tornado passes over your home, whether the windows are up or down, it’s likely to just destroy it. It’s not the air pressure you’re worried about when a tornado passes by, it’s the high wind speeds.

Where Tornadoes Can Go

Another myth occasionally heard in Tornado Alley is that tornadoes have certain things they can’t do. You’ll occasionally hear that tornadoes can’t cross rivers, or they can’t climb mountains, or they can’t strike in city centers. This, however, is also untrue. No spot is safe from a tornado: they can appear wherever a supercell forms, and no landmass or natural structure can prevent them from moving over it.

Highway Overpass

Make no mistake: despite a popular misconception, highway overpasses are not safe shelters from tornadoes. A widely-circulate video of a news crew avoiding a tornado under and overpass in 1991 led to this misconception, though that scenario was highly unlikely and a terrible example of where to take shelter.

An overpass acts as a wind tunnel when directly struck by a tornado. The Venturi effect increases the wind speed by a huge factor, making it more likely that you’ll be lifted by the tornado and seriously injured.

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Jeremy Liu
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Jeremy Liu

Jeremy Liu has always been fascinated by extreme weather—but he prefers to write about the world’s deadliest storms from the safety and comfort of his home office. He’s much less likely to get hit with a flying cow that way. (And yes, Jeremy’s favorite movie is Twister.)

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Jeremy Liu Written by Jeremy Liu