Despite all the advancements we've made in weather prediction, disaster preparedness, and sandbag technology, most of us are absolutely screwed if Mother Nature decides to throw a fit. That's why extreme weather has become a sort of boogeyman for humanity, one we love making the bad guy in action movies because we are terrified of how helpless it makes us feel.
And like any boogeyman, the urban legends and old wives' tales have completely outpaced the original threat. So let's take a minute to put at least five of those absurd legends to bed right now.
#5. Opening a Window During a Storm Relieves Pressure
If you live in tornado country or have ever been through a hurricane, you've heard this one. When the storm comes, don't batten down the hatches -- open things up. Yes, some rain will blow into the house, but it will also keep the place from exploding like a wood-and-plaster balloon.
There's even some solid science behind it: Everyone knows that storms are caused by crazy pressure systems, and when those systems build into something as massive as a tornado or hurricane, you need to equalize the pressure. Otherwise, say goodbye to your roof, asshole!
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That roof was a prick anyway.
The problem is that they're exaggerating the pressure difference. After all, you don't need a space shuttle decompression chamber each time you leave your house in a storm -- and your fleshy body is a lot less structurally sound than a house. So if a storm isn't sucking the eyeballs out of your head, Total Recall-style, there's really no chance it's going to tear the roof off your house. It's the 150-mph winds that do that.
Also, it's not like your house is airtight anyway. It isn't like an airplane, which needs to have oxygen pumped in continuously to keep you from suffocating; every house has little holes and openings that allow air to move through, so opening your window during a storm isn't doing anything that the faulty siding or misshapen door frame weren't already doing.
Including lowering your property value.
Actually, that's not true: Opening your window is allowing flying debris to come whipping into your house to rip your fucking face off. That's why opening a window during a storm, especially a hurricane or a tornado, is extremely dangerous. Most storms are a little like vampires in that they can't really get into your house until you invite them in, but once you open a window or crack a door, all manner of wind, rain, and debris that would otherwise be hitting the outside of your house is now swirling around your living room, too.
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It's a good way to get pets, though.
And in fact, the whole "preventing the house from exploding" thing is actually made worse by open doors and windows; allowing those winds to blow through a window is the equivalent of catching all that wind in a big wooden parachute. Boom: Goodbye, roof.
#4. A Giant Earthquake Will Cause California to Fall into the Pacific
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If you read any of the news stories about how California is due for a massive earthquake, they sound suspiciously like excerpts from the book of Revelation. They promise massive fires, gaping chasms, swallowed cities, and tens of thousands of deaths. While those prophecies are grim, they aren't completely unreasonable -- California exists squarely on a fault line, which is basically like a perforated line showing Mother Nature exactly where to tear.
If only Slim Jim wrappers were so consistently rippable.
This has given rise to the idea that it's only a matter of time before there's a quake so big, it shakes California completely loose from the rest of the United States, giving Arizonians some beautiful beachfront property. That was, after all, the premise of Lex Luthor's scheme in Superman -- a nuclear explosion would prematurely trigger the fault line and all of California would slide right into the ocean, leaving Lex's evil empire behind. Concerned people Google this subject so often that if you type the phrase "Will California ..." into the search box, Google autocompletes it to "sink" and "break off" as the first two results.
It can never happen. Yes, tectonic plates are a thing, and yes, land masses do move. But continents don't drift around the ocean like icebergs -- not only would it be impossible for an entire state to just snap off of North America, but the movement of the plates on the fault line is actually pushing them across each other, not tearing them apart. The Pacific Plate and the North American Plate are grinding against each other like young, unlubricated lovers rolling around in the sand. All the drag from the friction means that the movement is choppy, which is why earthquakes are just as common in California as silicone.
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Like this, except with no water.
Even if the plates were pulling away from one another, there would still be a better chance of California getting obliterated by an asteroid before it sinks into the ocean because of plate tectonics. Tectonic plates have a blistering top speed of about 100 millimeters a year. That's just not fast enough to make a 163,696-square-mile state rip itself from the mainland and swim away, at least not until millions of years from now.
So the doomsday preppers are right that California is due for a massive earthquake, but it's more likely to force Los Angeles and San Francisco to share real estate than turn the whole thing into an island.
Although the combined weight of stand-still traffic might cause the planet to collapse on itself.
#3. Overpasses Protect You From Tornadoes
Everyone wants to feel like they have some semblance of control during a catastrophe. We all know, for instance, that if there's an earthquake, you get under a door frame; if there's a nuclear attack, you crawl under your desk; and, of course, if there's a tornado, you take shelter under an overpass. While these are primarily designed to give worriers peace of mind, that last one certainly makes logical sense, right? Getting under a heavily fortified bridge during any disaster could save your life. You'll never see overpasses collapsed and strewn around the Midwest in the aftermath of a tornado, and just look how well it works for these newscasters!
Unlike the completely useless advice of getting under a door frame in an earthquake or "duck and cover" in an atom bomb explosion, taking shelter under an overpass is actually much more dangerous than just trying to make a run for it.
Although it's still less dangerous than riding headlong into one on a unicycle.
See, by climbing up the embankment to the tiny space under the corners of the bridge, you're getting higher up in the air. The winds from a tornado accelerate with height, so you're actively throwing yourself in the most dangerous part of the twister. Additionally, that tiny space you're huddled in creates pressure -- a pocket like that acts to focus and intensify the wind speed (visualize a person putting her thumb over the end of a running hose). That means that a small tornado could suddenly develop the power to rip you apart, but only as it passes over the one place you've chosen to hide.
So how did that camera crew survive? Well, in short, they got extremely lucky. The tornado didn't actually hit the bridge directly; it passed by them with just enough distance to save their lives. Also, the particular overpass they chose had tiny crawl sections between the steel supports at the very top of the embankment, which meant that they were essentially huddled in a tiny steel cave. Most overpasses aren't designed that way, yet that didn't stop the media from immediately announcing that overpasses were the safest place to be when gods start firing angry wind missiles at the Midwest.
"For extra security, carve 'Eat a dick, Thor' directly above your head."
As a result, some people even leave their houses during a tornado to go find an overpass because they think it's safer, and each time there are fatalities under those overpasses, even when there isn't a single death anywhere else that the tornado hit.