Weather myths and folklore
Some weather folklore can rate a smile. (If the bull leads the cows to pasture, expect rain. If the cows precede the bull, the weather will be uncertain.)
Some of it deserves a "Well, du-uh!" (When the leaves of trees turn over, expect windy conditions and possibly severe weather.)
Some weather folklore is dangerous. Using it as a guide can be a fatal error, said Mary Knapp, Kansas' state climatologist.
"Many Kansans believe, for example, that you can outrun a tornado in your vehicle," she said. "That might be true, if tornadoes always followed roadways, never changed directions or even were reliable about coming from the southwest. It might be true, if everyone else would stay out of your way.
"But one of the saddest outcomes of the deadly tornado that struck Wichita Falls, TX, in 1979, was that 16 people were killed when they tried to drive out of the storm's path. They got stuck in traffic, and 11 of them had left homes that weren't even damaged," Knapp said.
Knapp heads the Kansas Weather Data Library, housed with Kansas State University Research and Extension. She said history also has debunked these severe weather myths:
--You are okay, so long as the sky is clear overhead.
"If a storm is close enough that you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning. The last blue sky before a storm hits is why the United States has lightning victims on ballfields almost every summer," she said. "In turn, tornadoes often develop on the tail edge of a storm."
--Clouds always turn green when a tornado is about to emerge.
A green sky typically means a storm is producing hail that may reach the ground. Tornadoes develop from a wide variety of cloud colors, but not always green.
--Rubber-soled shoes and tires insulate you from lightning.
"Not true," the climatologist said. "Electricity follows the easiest path. So, when lightning strikes a hard-topped car, the electricity flows through the car body's metal to the ground. You will be protected only if you are not touching a metal surface--which may require your curling up on the seat. Convertibles, of course, are no protection," she said.
-- Geography can protect you from tornadoes.
Every state in the union has tornadoes on record. Twisters can go across rivers, climb the side of a mountain, go across snow and ice fields, desecrate an Indian burial mound and blast right through the confluence of rivers.
--You should open windows when a tornado is expected to keep your home from losing its roof or exploding, due to the air pressure change that tornadoes bring.
"You shouldn't waste time you could be spending in getting away from all that glass and going to shelter in your basement or a ground-level interior room. The tornado will open the windows for you," Knapp said. "What destroys homes, drives timbers as if they were nails and turns cars into crumpled airplanes is the high-speed wind.
"A strong downdraft of wind can cause almost identical damage to homes. Straight-line winds can be as bad or worse for the roofs on some types of flat-topped buildings," she said.
--Lightning never strikes twice (in the same place).
The tallest thing around is at risk in every storm. In Kansas, this can include people, livestock, cars, trees, utility poles, radio towers and tractors in the field. In a single New York storm, the Empire State Building once got hit eight times in just 24 minutes.
--Real Kansans go out and watch storms, to see for themselves if trouble is on its way.
"If you really want to do this, you should go to the National Weather Service's storm-spotter training, in early spring. The risks will still be there, but you will be better prepared to recognize them," she said.
Knapp also recommends that Kansans buy a NOAA weather radio (named for its ability to link locally to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service) or find a local radio station that "takes weather seriously."
"If you don't know them, learn the names of the surrounding counties and nearby towns, too. That will help you keep up with a storm's movement toward your home," she said. "And remember that you can't hear a severe weather warning if you aren't listening for it. When you are in a severe weather watch zone, take an occasional break from the video or CD to get an update on current conditions."
Weather lore science backs up
Weather can always fool you. As often as not, these folk
"advisories" are on target:
--Red sky at morning: Sailor take warning. Red sky at night: Sailor's delight.
--Ring around the moon: Rain by noon. Ring around the sun: Rain before night's done.
--When dew is on the grass, rain will never come to pass.
--When your hair stands on end, hit the ground. Lightning's imminent. (But squat. Don't lie down!)
--If insects are flying low, wet weather will follow.
--When leaves fold and flowers close, you'll soon have a wet nose.
Source: Kansas State University Research and Extension.