Severe Weather 101 – What to do when a tornado hits

If a tornado hits, we all know to go to the basement.

But what else should we do?

In the past, we've been told to open windows and go to the southwest corner of the basement.

That's not the case anymore.

Tornadoes are nature's most violent storms, with wind speeds that can reach 300 miles per hour.

Tornadoes take the lives of around 70 Americans each year. The base of a strong tornado can be a mile or more wide, encompassing a neighborhood in seconds.

Fortunately, most tornadoes are not that strong, but we need to be prepared.

Most of us know to head to the basement, but there are still a lot of misconceptions out there when it comes to tornado safety. Here are just a few on the list, and what the experts have to say about them.

The need to open the windows is one of the most common misconceptions. Years ago, we were told to open the windows to equalize the pressure in the house to keep it from exploding or the roof from blowing off. But that's not the case anymore.

"Don't worry about windows. Mother Nature will open them. If a tornado is close enough, there will be debris in the tornado that will open any windows it needs to and if it's hit, it's going to take the roof anyway if it is that strong," explains Steve Eddy of the National Weather Service.

That, and taking time to open windows will cost you precious time to get to safety.

Another misconception many people have is that you need to take cover in the southwest corner of your basement. That, too, is no longer recommended.

"That may not be the best place,” says Eddy. “If that is under a kitchen with a lot of heavy appliances, that is not a good place to be because I've seen time and time again where the appliances fell straight down, and if you're under that you're going to get crushed. Where you need to be is under a stairwell or under a sturdy bench -- it could be in the center of the basement, that's fine. Not all storms come from the southwest -- that was what the theory was."

A modern-day myth worth dispelling is that highway overpasses are a safe place to shelter if you're stuck outside. The truth is, you are putting yourself at greater risk from strong winds and debris when you climb up above ground level.

Here's a quick review of what you should do during a tornado. First and foremost, get to the lowest level of your house and try to put as many walls between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table or staircase. It's always a good idea to cover your head with a pillow or blanket. Make sure you have a battery-operated radio or television so that you can get the latest information if you lose power. If you are caught outside and can't get to a sturdy shelter quickly, it is better to lie flat in a ditch than to take shelter in a highway overpass or to stay in your car.

Outdoor tornado sirens are nice, but they are meant to be just that -- outdoor sirens. They are not designed to warn you while you are inside your house, and you can easily sleep through the siren in the middle of the night.

That's why weather radios are so important. As soon as a warning is issued, an alarm sounds, and then you can turn on the TV for further information, and get to safety if needed.

Monitor the weather conditions closely if severe storms threaten. Knowing what to do is key to keeping your family safe.

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