10 Myths About Surviving a Tornado

You're Safest in a Room's Southwest Corner
Sorry, businessman. Unless one corner of your basement has windows, one hiding spot is no better than another. Helder Almeida/iStock/Thinkstock

Some survival myths are as stubborn as the last tree standing in a tornado-ravaged forest. Such is the case with the notion that the southwest corner is the safest part of a basement when a twister strikes.

This idea gained traction way back in 1887 thanks to a book written by meteorologist named John Park Finley. In it, the U.S. Army lieutenant reasoned that tornadoes generally travel from southwest to northeast, so all the debris would be blown in that direction, endangering anyone in the northeast corner of a building. More than a century later, a surprisingly high number of people still cling to this belief, as demonstrated by a 2009 report that found nearly 60 percent of visitors to the National Weather Center understood it to be true [source: Hoekstra et al.].

There are a couple of problems with this survival strategy. Tornadoes don't always move from southwest to northeast, and even if they did, the winds don't necessarily blow in a straight line. That means debris could blow in any direction, potentially threatening all corners of the basement. So where in the cellar should you hunker down? Your best bet is under a mattress or sturdy piece of furniture — just make sure there aren't any heavy appliances above! [source: Edwards]