Five Hazardous Weather Myths Debunked

By Mark Leberfinger, Staff Writer
July 9, 2014; 12:26 AM ET
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Numerous people have misconceptions about the weather, and some of the myths can prove to be dangerous or life-threatening.

When high heat interferes with normal air density, bright wavy lines appear on surfaces like sidewalks and roads like this highway in Death Valley. (Photo/Flickr/OliBac)

1. Myth: Humid Air Is Heavier Than Dry Air

Dry air is actually heavier than humid air, Senior Meteorologist Steve Wistar said.

There are more molecules of water in humid air which are lighter than molecules of air, he said.

"You can really feel the presence of humid air, but it is less dense," he said.

An airliner will need a larger runway length in dry air because there is more air resistance, and a baseball will go farther in humid air.

Damaged vehicles and homes are shown in the Bay Ridge section of the Brooklyn borough of New York, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007. (AP Photos/Bebeto Matthews)

2. Myth: Tornadoes Don't Strike Cities or Mountainous Areas

The presence of rough terrain or skyscrapers tend to disrupt and weaken the circulation of tornadoes but that doesn't mean they avoid those areas, Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston said.

"You should take them just as seriously if a tornado warning is issued for your area," he said.

An F-4 tornado, known as the Moshannon tornado, plowed over hills and through the valleys of northern Centre County, Pennsylvania, on May 31, 1985, Wistar said.

Tornadoes have touched down in Texas and Midwestern cities and have hit skyscrapers, Wister added. New York City and other major cities of the East have also been struck by tornadoes.

Red skies can give a sign to people of how the dryness of the atmosphere. (Creativemarc/iStock/Thinkstock)

3. Myth: Red at Night, Sailors' Delight; Red in Morning, Sailors' Warning

There is truth to the saying, but it's not a hard-and-fast meteorological maxim, Wistar said.

A red sky tends to show that the atmosphere is dry, Boston said. If it occurs as the sun sets in the west, it means there is dry air and clearing skies.

If the red sky occurs at sunrise, it means the dry air is to the east and unsettled weather is possibly to the west, he said.

Weather systems in the Northern Hemisphere generally move from west to east, but the maxim doesn't always work because other systems may move from east to west or from south to north instead.

A member of the Montgomery Fire Dept. Heavy Rescue Squad climbs to a car to check for signs of life in this Thursday, May 7, 2009, after it was swept into a drainage ditch from the parking lot about a quarter-mile away in Montgomery, Ala. (AP File Photo/Dave Martin)

4. Myth: It's Safe to Drive Through Flood Waters

"Absolutely not," Boston said.

"It takes only 2 feet of water that is moving to lift a car off the road surface," Boston said.

About half of all flash flood-related fatalities are vehicle-related, the National Weather Service said.

In addition to a vehicle being moved off the road by flood waters, those same waters may also cover over a washed-out section of roadway or other obstruction.


5. Myth: Lightning Doesn't Strike the Same Place Twice

Very tall buildings are targets for multiple lightning strikes.

"The Empire State Building gets struck repeatedly [on average of 100 times a year]. It all depends on how much an object sticks up in the sky," Wistar said.

Lightning has also been known to strike the same person twice, or seven times in the case of former U.S. Park Ranger Roy Sullivan.

Sullivan survived all seven strikes while he was working in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.


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