Debunking severe weather myths - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Debunking severe weather myths

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There are lots of myths that after decades of being proven wrong are still circulated and widely accepted. Here are a few of the most common myths regarding severe weather.

1. Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Wrong! The Empire State Building alone has been struck by lightning hundreds of times. Areas particularly vulnerable to multiple strikes are tall, isolated objects. It's exactly why taking shelter under trees during a thunderstorm is a bad idea. It makes you a more likely target.

A study conducted by NASA in 2003 also shows that a single strike also hits 1.45 locations on average. Different forks from the same bolt can go out in different directions, so any given location is about 45% more likely to be struck than previously thought.

2. Myth: An approaching tornado sounds like a freight train.

Sometimes it does, but other times it won't. Additionally, straight-line winds may also make that familiar sound. While speaking with Tony Sturey, a Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg, he mentioned that witnesses to severe weather will assume that if the freight train sound was heard, it must have been a tornado. Sturey says that straight-line winds can cause that same roaring sound. Tornado or not, very strong winds will always be loud.

3. Myth: Where there's no rain, lightning cannot strike.

"Bolts from the blue" are not unheard of. Lightning can travel 10-15 miles away from a thunderstorm. Directly above you may be just a few high clouds or even blue sky. That's why the moment you hear thunder you should make your way inside.

4. Myth: Overpasses are safe locations during a tornado.

This is a myth that has caused the death of many people in the last few decades. A home video showing a group taking shelter underneath an overpass hit the air waves, and ever since there have been people using highway overpasses as shelter from tornadoes. That time, the people there were lucky. The tornado did not move directly over them.

In truth, overpasses can act as wind tunnels, amplifying wind speeds. They also offer no protection from debris and many people have been sucked out as the tornadoes moved over.

5. Myth: The southwest corner of the house or basement is the safest place to be.

This is probably one of the oldest tornado safety myths still around. The theory was that since tornadoes frequently approach from the southwest, the debris would blow over anyone taking shelter in that corner of the house.

The biggest problem with this theory is that a tornado's winds rotate. Intense winds circulate around an area of low pressure, so they're not coming from that one direction. The next issue is that even if they did, tornadoes do NOT always approach from the southwest. They can come from any direction. Your safest bet is to put as many walls between you and the outside and don't worry about which side of the room you're on.

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