This article was first published in The Skeptical Inquirer.
When a hurricane is bearing down on our homes with the potential to cause massive damage, it’s natural to be scared and feel quite helpless. You can do certain things in those moments to make your home, and yourself safer. Unfortunately, opening a window is not one of them.
The rationale behind this is likely born out of the fact that when hit by a tornado, a roof will often blow off a home. It makes sense that one would assume that this sort of explosion is caused by a buildup of pressure and so as a release, the windows or doors should be opened. However, as Snopes reports, “further research showed those blasted apart houses were the result of wind blowing into open or broken windows, so the advice, rather than preventing this particular form of destruction, would actually work to cause it.”
If our homes were wide-open boxes and we could open up large openings on both the windward and leeward sides, much of the wind would blow right through, putting less pressure on the house’s structure. But our homes are not wide-open boxes. Hallways, doors, closets, nooks, etc., mean that wind entering the house cannot blow directly through and instead will hit walls and other structures. Furthermore, we all have precious belongings that we would likely prefer didn’t get blown around, smashed, and soaked with water.
This advice also ignores one of the most significant causes of damage to both property and persons during storms—wind-borne debris. With hurricane-force winds, anything from a rock to a roof tile can become an extremely dangerous projectile.
When attempting to weather a hurricane or tornado, one of the most important things is keeping the envelope of your home intact. Stormproof windows and doors are invaluable in these circumstances, and if you live in a storm-prone area, they should be on top of your investment list.
The 1974 Tropical Cyclone Tracy that hit Australia provides a poignant case study of why this adage is awful advice. The damage from Tracy was severe, “so severe that 90% of the homes in Darwin, Australia, a city of 40,000, were made uninhabitable.” It’s believed that “window breakage and door failure on the windward side of buildings caused most of the roof failures,” leading to the bulk of those damages.