Tornado Window Myth Dispelled

Tornado: Image courtesy NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)

Tornado season is here for those of us living in the Midwest. Tornadoes fascinate me – they’re so incredibly powerful and stunning and scary all at once. I used to have all sorts of elaborate emergency escape plans to the basement when I was a kid, and even had a pecking order for what prized possessions I would save and how. I also remember as a kid being told that if there was the threat of a tornado to open up a window a crack before heading to the basement so that the pressure inside the house would normalize with the pressure outside generated by the tornado thus preventing the roof from being blown off. I did this all the way up until last summer – but no more.

It turns out that a majority of damage to homes is the result of wind blowing into open (or broken) windows pushing up on the roof at the same time as winds are blowing over and under them, generating a lifting force, which increases the chances of the roof being blown off. So, all this time I’ve been making my house less safe, rather than safer. Doh.

Although it is likely wishful thinking on my part to hope that a single pane of glass is going to remain intact during a tornado, especially with all the debris that will be flying around. It makes more sense to close them to keep the rain out than to save the house from tornado damage, but it feels good to do something during those times when you have no real control. Better still to just forget the windows and get to the basement. With my most prized possessions.

For more information on tornadoes, and tornado safety, check out these sites:
Tornado Project Online
NOAA’s online Tornado FAQ
Weather.com’s Tornado page

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i think that's really cool that you tell what causes the roof to blow off and everything, but what happens when you dont have a basement to get to or anything? Where should you go? I've heard that bathrooms work but is it really safe? Where is the safest place to go in your house?

posted on Fri, 04/28/2006 - 5:17pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

ive never been in a tornado but i have had to go in the basement(it was just hail) i took all my prized possessions with me. (including my pet hampster and cat)

posted on Fri, 04/28/2006 - 1:34pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

we had to go to our basement under the stairs lastyear because we had very strong winds that blew shingles off the roof and we had lots of rain with golf ball sized hail. It was scary because my dad was out nof town so it was just me and my mom. We grabbed our dog, cat, water, candy and a flashlight. My mom kept us all calm and safe and we survived!! You should always be prepared for storms.

posted on Sat, 04/29/2006 - 10:48am
JARVIS's picture
JARVIS says:

I guess I can see where that myth would work, but I would still in that panic state of mind wouldnt even think abut opening my windows. That is just dumb to keep your windows open. "Hey lets let the rain in and let debris come into my house. Dang me am smrat."

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 9:58am
Rmckean90's picture
Rmckean90 says:

Dear Anonymous:

The safest place to go during a tornado if you do not have a basement is the hallway, closet, or bathroom. You can even lay in the bathtub. Cover your head with your arms for extra protection. You do not want to be near any windows or doors. I live in the south where hurricanes and tornados are pretty common.

posted on Fri, 02/21/2014 - 12:06am

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