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Five Life-Threatening Tornado Safety Myths Debunked

The United States has the highest concentration of tornadoes in the world, according to NOAA. It's important for citizens throughout the United States to know how to act and what a safe plan of action is when severe weather strikes. Not everything in the movies holds true, especially when it comes to safety precautions against severe weather such as tornadoes.

With that in mind, compiled below are five of the top tornado myths debunked to help those who find themselves in the midst of a tornado be able to act quickly and as safely as possible.

1. When there is a tornado warning, would opening the windows to equalize the pressure save a home from further destruction?

Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist of NOAA Storm Prediction Center, said that doing anything except taking cover during a tornado warning is a waste of precious time.

"It's not about the pressure in your house; it's the winds that will ultimately be the cause of further destruction. The winds are going to bring debris from miles around, and if you open the windows, that will bring it right into your living room," Carbin said.

AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski agreed and said the winds will bring shrapnel and rain into your home.

"Shrapnel is made up of bits of medal, grains of sand, soil, even corn and it turns into a cloud of debris. You open up your windows and you'll find it right in your home along with rain damage too. I say leave the windows be, and get away from them because they are only glass and will break due to the shrapnel," Kottlowski said.

2. Does seeking shelter under a highway overpass protect you from a tornado?

"Winds actually can be funneled and strengthened under overpasses, similarly to opening your windows in your house. Winds are what you want to avoid," Carbin said.

While the concrete and re-bar in the bridge may offer some protection against flying debris, the overpass also acts as a wind tunnel and may serve to collect debris.

"Not to mention that it's a traffic hazard because other cars or drivers might be trying to get away from hail or heavy rain underneath," Carbin said.

There is great potential for cars parked or deserted at an overpass to be a problem as well. It can pose a threat for accidents or depending on the strength of the tornado, the winds can pick up the cars and toss them around as debris.

"If you are faced with a F4 or F5 storm, the cars could become hazardous. Not to mention, some people say that if the girders do stay intact that they could protect you. But that is a risky chance to take so I would advise not to risk it and take cover elsewhere," AccuWeather Meteorologist Eric Leister said.

Instead of an overpass, both Kottlowski and Leister agree that getting out of your car and finding a low-lying area is the best option for safety.

"On the interstate highways, there are usually very large ravines where debris should fly right over your head," Kottlowski said.

3. Is a green sky an indicator that a tornado is coming?

In some cases, green clouds can appear in thunderstorms that are dropping hail, or a green hue can hint to a tremendous amount of ice or water within a thunderstorm.

There is no direct correlation that a green tint in the sky means a tornado. In fact, the time of day and lighting affect what the sky looks like on an average day let alone during severe weather, Kottlowski said.

"Tornadoes can emerge from oculus clouds, thick dark stratus clouds or rain could prevent you from seeing the storm completely," Kottlowski said. "Just be sure to heed all warnings you receive and don't count on the clouds."

4. Do tornadoes not strike big cities?

"All targets are equal, but depending on where certain cities are on the map, they might not be as prone to tornadoes like Chicago or New York City," Kottlowski said.

The geography of a city is what truly makes it susceptible to a tornado or not.

"Cities such as Birmingham, Charlotte, Dallas, Atlanta and Oklahoma City have all seen their fair share of tornadoes," Carbin said.

Tall office buildings are actually more protected from severe weather because they have a very sound infrastructure. However, even in a big city scenario, the wind is the enemy.

"Back in 2000, there was a tornado in Fort Worth where a lot of high rise office buildings were destroyed but not completely flattened. What happened was, the windows were destroyed by gravel from the roof of an adjacent building that was picked up by the wind and hit the windows like bullets. To repair the windows alone was more expensive than how much the entire building was worth," Kottlowski said.

5. Is the southwest corner of my house the safest place to take cover?

"I think this myth comes from the thought that tornadoes typically, but not always, move in a southwest to northeast direction and people may feel they are at less risk if they are in the approaching corner, but that's incorrect," Carbin said.

The best place to protect yourself is in a low place with a reinforced structure above your head. If you're fortunate enough to have a basement in your home or a safe room, those are good options as well.

"In my experience, I know a lot of people don't have basements in the Plains because they are hard to build in that area due to the high level of the water table but do have a steel reinforced closet in their homes or garages for peace of mind. Those can usually fit a family of four," said Carbin.

Kottlowski agreed this is a myth, but if you find there is no other option, you can triangulate yourself in a corner as an option to remain safe from having the roof of a house collapsing and injuring you.

"There are two parts to this myth that are key and people often forget: you need to be in the southwest corner of your basement under a workbench or desk to protect your head. If you're in a bedroom, lay against the bed and put the mattress over your head forming an isosceles triangle because people in this position are more likely to survive," Kottlowski said.

If there is no basement or safe room, another alternative would be to take shelter in an interior room of the house, particularly the bathroom in a house, hiding in the bathtub might be a good place to be because the plumbing will reinforce the walls for further protection, Kottlowski said.