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8 Tornado Safety Tips

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The safety advice your friendly neighborhood weatherperson doles out on a regular basis is as routine and forgettable as the safety demonstration at the beginning of every flight. Few fliers actually take a moment to look for the nearest emergency exit or thumb through the pamphlet to see what to do if the airplane is in trouble. We treat tornado safety the same way. The information is drilled into us from an early age, but do you really know what to do if a tornado threatens your location? Here are a few tips to help you deal with the unimaginable if you find yourself in a bad spot this severe weather season.

1. DON'T PANIC ...

Not panicking is easier said than done. I flail around if a bee comes too close to me, so I completely understand the impulse to freak out if you find yourself under a tornado warning, admittedly a much more serious situation. Keeping calm will help you make better decisions, and this is important because seconds count when a life-threatening storm is bearing down on you. The average lead time between the moment a tornado warning is issued and the arrival of the tornado is about 15 minutes, but sometimes it’s as low as a minute or two.

2. ...BUT DON'T UNDERREACT, EITHER.

More people will find themselves underreacting to a tornado warning than overreacting to one. The “it won’t happen to me” mentality is a scourge that has cost countless lives during disasters. It probably won’t happen to you, but it could happen to you, and you can’t be completely sure until the storm is over.

3. GIVE YOURSELF PLENTY OF WARNING. 

A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado. A tornado warning means that a tornado is imminent or occurring. You need to know that you’re under a tornado watch or warning the second one is issued so you have time to prepare.

The most common way people receive tornado warnings these days is through the Wireless Emergency Alert feature on their smartphones, but you need to have redundant sources for warnings so you can still get timely alerts if, for example, your battery dies or you lose a signal. Buy a weather radio, a special device that you can program so it sounds a loud tone when a watch or warning is issued for your county. Monitor local television and radio stations so you’re aware of what’s going on.

Please don’t rely on tornado sirens as your only alert during a storm. In addition to being wildly unreliable, these systems are there to provide warning to people outdoors—tornado sirens are not designed to be heard indoors.

4. FIND YOUR SAFE PLACE.

Scout out a safe spot wherever you most commonly find yourself during the day, whether it’s at home, work, or school. The safest place to be during a tornado is underground—a dedicated in-ground tornado shelter is your best bet, but a basement works as well. If you have a basement, take a moment to think about what heavy furniture is above you in case the floor gives out.

If you can’t get underground, you should get to the lowest level of the building and as close to the middle as possible. The idea is to put as many wall as possible between you and the flying debris. A small interior closet is great, but an interior bathroom is ideal since the pipes in walls (and the bathtub!) might help stop debris from hitting you.

5. NEVER, EVER TAKE SHELTER UNDER A BRIDGE.

Seriously, don't do it. A bridge will not protect you from a tornado. You know that famous video of people riding out a tornado in Kansas by hiding under a bridge? They lived because the tornado didn’t actually hit them. If it had, the winds would have sped up as it passed under the bridge, likely sucking them out and into the open.

If you’re out on the road during a tornado, take shelter in the nearest sturdy building you can find.

6. INVEST IN A HELMET.

It’s not the wind that kills you; it’s the flying two-by-four from your neighbor’s den that does it. Deaths and injuries from tornadoes are horrifically graphic, often including massive head wounds, impalement, amputation, and other gruesome wounds. This is why the “duck and cover” routine is so widely taught as a staple of tornado safety.

Investing in helmets for you and everyone in your household is a great way to provide extra protection if a tornado hits your house. If you can prevent a serious blow to the head, your chances of survival tick up, even if just a little bit.

7. MIND YOUR CLOTHES (AND YOUR FEET).

If the unthinkable happens and you find yourself in the immediate aftermath of a tornado, you’re going to have to walk (and possibly climb) through dangerous debris. You don’t want to have to step through a pile of snapped wood and sharp glass in shorts and flip-flops. If you know the weather could get rough that day, try to wear pants that go down to your ankles and closed-toe shoes that would help you walk through debris more safely.  

8. IGNORE THE MYTHS.

Nobody is “immune” from a tornado. Tornadoes can and have touched down in all 50 states. Tornadoes can and do hit cities. Tornadoes can and do cross bodies of water like rivers and lakes. Tornadoes can and do cross mountains. Opening your windows and doors before a tornado only lets the wind destroy your house more easily. Tornadoes can move in any direction, not just from southwest to northeast. The sky doesn’t always turn green before a tornado.

Learning the facts about tornadoes and knowing what you’ll do in case of emergency will go a long way to help you if you find yourself having a bad day. It probably won’t happen to you, but at least you’ll be prepared in case it does. 

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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