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Can a tornado lift a car?

Top 10 Tornado Myths Debunked

Many people, including residents of Tornado Alley have misguided perceptions about tornadoes. Most tornado myths are passed down over generations and started decades ago when tornado science was extremely limited. Learning what is and is not a tornado myth can possibly even save your life!

1. You should open the windows before a tornado to balance the pressure inside your home.

In the event that your home is under a tornado threat do not waste valuable time opening windows, instead, get to your tornado safe spot as soon as possible! The assumption here is that due to pressure changes that occur with tornadoes, opening a home’s windows will balance the pressure and save the structure. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Most structural failures are caused by the loss of the structure’s support system, which in most cases is the roof. This happens when winds push their way into a structure and become “trapped” with no way out and more incoming winds preventing the wind inside the structure from escaping.

Satellite tornado moves across road.

When this happens, the air is forced up and thus the roof is removed. As soon as the roof is removed the structure losses its support system and walls can collapse. This is why the safest place in your home is an interior room with no windows. Do not waste precious time opening windows during tornadoes, chances are the debris from the tornado will do that for you anyway and you don’t want to be in the path of flying glass!

2. Overpasses are safe tornado shelters.

This is one of the most dangerous misconceptions about tornadoes. During the F5 tornado that struck the Oklahoma City Metro on May 3rd, 1999, there were multiple fatalities resulting from people seeking shelter under highway overpasses. An overpass creates a tunneling effect that increases wind speeds as the winds compress to travel beneath the overpass.

tornado highway overpass

Any person who is caught in these winds will likely not survive as the winds will also carry very fast debris as well. On top of this, parking beneath overpasses during severe weather is ill-advised and can create a traffic jam that prevents emergency services from being able to do their jobs. If you are caught outside and absolutely cannot escape an approaching tornado, the safest thing to do is quickly locate the lowest area around you (such as a ditch) and lie as flat as possible while covering your head with your hands. If you’re in a vehicle, be sure to pull completely off the road before exiting.

Laying flat in a ditch may sound scary, but the idea is to keep the winds above you, not under you. Tornadoes don’t really “suck”, they instead “lift”, and in order to lift, the winds have to get beneath your body. Sheltering in an overpass puts you directly into the strongest winds. Don’t do it!

Can a Tornado Pick Up a Locomotive?

Are all tornadoes that intense? Thankfully not. This article will help you understand how strong a tornado and its associated storms can be and what you can do to mitigate tornado damage to your home and property.

So, Just How Strong Are Tornado Winds?

Tornados are classified by their wind speed and their potential destruction. Enhanced Fujita or EF is the scale used to describe the strength of a tornado. The scale ranges from zero to five. A tornado rated EF0 is considered the weakest of tornados with a wind speed between 55–85 mph.

Tornado classes are as follows:

  • EF1: With wind speeds between 86–113 mph, EF1 tornados cause damage to mobile homes, break windows, and can even rip doors off sturdy buildings.
  • EF2: When the wind speed picks up to 111–135 mph, the tornado can pick up cars, tear roofs off sturdy homes, and uproot large trees.
  • EF3: A tornado becomes EF3 when the wind speed reaches 136–165 mph. With this power, the tornado can blow structures away and overturn trains.
  • EF4: Expect trees to snap, cars to hurl around, and well-constructed homes to be severely damaged when the wind speeds reach 166–200 mph.
  • EF5: Once wind speed exceeds 200 mph, the tornado enters the strongest classification. Against a tornado of this magnitude, high-rise buildings are in danger, whole homes can be swept away, and vehicles fly with ease.

How to Mitigate Tornado Damage

If you live in a place where tornados are common, your chances of experiencing tornado-related damages are too high not to prepare. Most tornado damage is wind or hail related.

You can prepare in advance for tornado season by:

  • Managing your landscape. Trees and stones can cause significant damage when the wind picks up. To avoid unnecessary damage, replace gravel ground cover with mulch, keep trees trimmed, and remove any dead or dying branches.
  • Building a storm cellar. If you can, construct a storm cellar to the National Safety Shelter requirements outlined by the NSSA.
  • Using tornado-resistant materials. When renovating, choose materials that can withstand heavy wind. You can also reinforce other parts of your home with tornado-resistant materials.
  • Trusting a cloud-based storage system. If you have important files stored on your computer, consider uploading the data to a cloud base that you can still access even if your technology is damaged.
  • Inventorying your home. Complete or update your home inventory. Be sure to include all your valuable possessions.
  • Reviewing and updating your insurance policy. Review your policy and speak with your agent about any updates (as necessary).

Does Home Insurance Cover Tornado Damage?

Tornados are one disaster that is commonly included in homeowners’ insurance policies—unlike floods or earthquakes. Insurance companies classify tornados as wind damage, so you still must look over your policy to make sure wind damage is included and that tornados are not specifically excluded. Also, keep in mind that flooding from the rain in a tornado would not be covered unless you purchased a separate flood insurance policy. Here are a few ways your insurance may help you in the event of a tornado.

  • Dweller’s coverage. With this coverage, you can receive help in repairs, replacing windows and roofing, or rebuilding your home entirely.
  • Personal property coverage. After a tornado, your belongings may be ruined and need to be replaced. Personal property coverage helps with that.
  • Loss of use coverage. If your home is damaged to the point of being unsafe to live in while it’s repaired, your insurance policy may include loss of use coverage, which covers the expenses of staying in a hotel and eating out for meals. While this help can be incredibly useful, it often only covers a few days.

Trust Our Teams to Help You Recover from Tornado Damage

Depending on the intensity, a tornado can create extensive damage to structures, property and endanger the well-being of any living thing caught in its path. Even with preparation and advanced forecasting, there’s no way to fully tornado-proof your home. If your home has suffered tornado damage, you can rely on your local Rainbow Restoration to help you recover. We offer full-service reconstruction, water and fire damage restoration that can help restore your home as soon as possible.

We hope you never need us, but we’re standing by in case you do. Call us at (855) 724-6269 or request information online to learn more.

Severe Weather Awareness — Tornado Classification and Safety

Tornadoes can occur in many different shapes and sizes ranging from a few yards to over one mile in width. They can move slowly, appearing nearly stationary, to as fast as 60 mph. The size and shape of a tornado does not necessarily say anything about the tornado’s strength or it’s capability to inflict damage. Since tornadoes can change intensity quickly, they should all be considered dangerous.

The vertical winds in tornadoes are capable of temporarily lifting heavy objects such as automobiles or even people hundreds of feet off the ground. They are also strong enough to carry lightweight objects miles away from their original location.

Tornado Classification

Tornadoes are classified into three broad groups based on their estimated wind speeds and resultant damage:

WeakEF0, EF1Wind speeds of 65 to 110 mph
StrongEF2, EF3Wind speeds of 111 to 165 mph
ViolentEF4, EF5Wind speeds of 166 to 200 mph or more
For over three decades prior to 2007, the most widely used method worldwide for estimating tornado strength and wind speed was the F-scale developed by Dr. Theodore (Ted) Fujita. Since 2007 in the U.S., the new Enhanced F-scale has become the standard for assessing tornado strength and resultant damage. In the original F-scale, wind speeds were based on calculations of the Beaufort wind scale and had never been scientifically verified in real tornadoes. 


65 to 85


86 to 110


111 to 135


136 to 165


166 to 200


Over 200

Enhanced F-scale winds are derived from engineering guidelines but still are only judgmental estimates. Because: 
  • Nobody knows the «true» wind speeds at ground level in most tornadoes, and
  • The amount of wind needed to do similar-looking damage can vary greatly, even from block to block or building to building.
Damage rating is (at best) an exercise in educated guessing. Even experienced damage-survey meteorologists and wind engineers can and often do disagree among themselves on a tornado's strength.
Recent Violent Wisconsin Tornadoes 
Even though 80% of Wisconsin's tornadoes have been rated weak in intensity, Wisconsin has experienced 3 tornadoes with winds speeds in excess of 260 mph since 1950. One of these violent tornadoes occurred as recently as 1996, peaking in strength east of the village of Oakfield in Fond du Lac county. Violent tornadoes account for 70% of all tornado deaths in the U.S.
Tornado Safety
  • Preparation
    • Know the county you live in. The NWS issues Tornado Warnings that are polygon-based, and may include an entire county, or more likely portions of neighboring counties.
    • Stay abreast of the latest forecast via NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or TV. Keep a watchful eye on the sky, and consider postponing outdoor activities.
    • Know your communities warning system. Communities have different ways of warning residents about tornadoes, with many having sirens intended for only outdoor warning purposes.
    • Pick a safe room in your home where household members and pets may gather during a tornado. This should be a basement, storm cellar, or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
    • Practice periodic tornado drills so that everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching.
    • Prepare for high winds by removing diseased and damaged limbs from trees.
    • Move or secure lawn furniture, trash cans, hanging plants or anything else that can be picked up by the wind and become a projectile.
    • Watch for tornado danger signs:
      • Dark, often greenish clouds/sky
      • Wall Cloud — an isolated lowering of the base of the thunderstorm
      • Debris cloud
      • Large hail
      • Funnel Cloud
      • Roaring Noise
      • Safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement or safe room. Cover your head with your arms, a mattress, or heavy blanket.
      • If no underground shelter is available, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative.
      • Stay away from windows!
      • Get out of large auditoriums or large warehouses.
      • Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes or severe winds (nearly 40 percent of all tornado-related deaths come from residents of mobile homes). Do not seek shelter in a hallway or bathroom of a mobile home. If you have access to a sturdy shelter or a vehicle, abandon your mobile home immediately.
      • If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, shelter, or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter:
        • Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.
        • If flying debris occurs while your are driving, pull over and park. Now you have the following options as a last resort:
          • Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands or a blanket if possible.
          • If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.
          • Continue listening to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio for updated information.
          • Stay out of damaged buildings.
          • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them to the utility company immediately.
          • Take pictures of damage, both of the building and its contents for insurance claims.
          • Clean up spilled medications, bleaches, gasoline and other flammable liquids that could become a fire hazard.
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