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Debunking weather myths: the answers

Lyndsay Morrison, staff writer
September 26, 2012 — Last week, The Weather Network aired its special, "Weather Myths Debunked." Here, we break down the top false weather myths with Environment Canada's Warning Preparedness Meteorologist Geoff Coulsen and let you know how to better keep you and your family safe.

Lightning never hits the same place twice?
Lightning never hits the same place twice?

MYTH: It is safe to hide under an overpass during a tornado

You're driving down a highway, when suddenly - you see a tornado approaching. Where do you go? What do you do? Contrary to what people may think, hiding under an overpass is NOT a safe option. 

"By putting yourself under that overpass, you've actually increased your chances of encountering stronger winds as they funnel underneath it and also debris can be thrown in there and collected in that area, so it is actually a very dangerous place to be," says Coulsen.

The safer option? If you need to, leave your vehicle and get into a ditch. 

MYTH: You should open windows in your home if a tornado is near

Here's another scenario. You're in your home, and a tornado warning has just been issued for your town. What do you do? 

Some people think that they should open all their windows. The idea is that doing so equalizes the pressure between the tornado and inside the home, keeping it from  
exploding. Any truth to that?

"If Mother Nature wants that window open, she's going to use debris to open it, and it's really a bad situation if you're going to be in front of it when that happens," Coulsen explains.

So nevermind the windows or your location in a room. Focus on getting to the lowest point of your home, or a small interior room, and protecting yourself with furniture.

MYTH: Tornadoes do not hit large cities

So, if you live in one of Canada's largest cities, you're safe from a tornado, right? We've seen several examples proving that this ISN'T the case. 

In 1987, a tornado tore through Edmonton. And in 2009, twisters came dangerously close to downtown Toronto.

"A lot of folks thought that if I lived in a big city, somehow the heat-island effect or the proximity to large buildings would protect me from tornadoes," Coulsen says. 

Where should you go if a tornado is near?
Where should you go if a tornado is near?

MYTH: Tornadoes do not form over hills, valleys or water 

What about large bodies of water, hills and valleys? Turns out, they won't protect you either. On August 20, 2009, a tornado roared right over a SKI HILL at the Blue Mountains community in Ontario. Meanwhile, consider the F3 tornado in Goderich, Ontario in 2011.

"This particular storm actually got itself together right over the lake, didn't weaken whatsoever, became even somewhat stronger, and then made landfall and we saw the devastation that it did," adds Coulsen.

MYTH: Tornadoes are more likely to hit campgrounds or trailer parks

You're watching the news - and there is it. ANOTHER campsite destroyed by a tornado. Is it possible that twisters are somehow attracted to these areas?

"We've seen numerous examples, in the US in particular," says Coulsen. "It's not so much that these trailer parks are attracting tornadoes, but there's a large number of these types of places to live in the US."

In Canada, we only have to think back to Pine Lake, Alberta in 2000, and more recently, Midland, Ontario in 2010, to see scenes of destruction at trailer parks and campgrounds. 

There is no proof that tornadoes are specifically attracted to these areas. But your best defense? Preparedness and vigilance. Having a weather radio doesn't hurt either.

MYTH: Lightning never strikes the same place twice

You know that old saying, "lightning never strikes the same place twice?" Turns out, it's far from the truth. Similar to tornadoes, lightning CAN strike at or near the same place multiple times. All you have to do is look at Toronto's CN Tower during a lightning storm. 

"The tallest free-standing building anywhere around here, has been struck, on average, 60-70-80 times a year from these lightning bolts," says Coulsen.

So what do you need to do? If you hear thunder, get indoors. And stay inside for a full 30 minutes after that last rumble.

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