Winter Woes: How to Stay Safe in an RV as Arctic Blast Hits US and Canada

Over 150 million Americans are under a winter chill advisory due to life-threatening temperatures. Every state besides Hawaii has issued some form of caution to residents as nearly 80 percent of the nation faces below-freezing weather.

The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.

—Ray Bradbury

More than half of U.S. states have experienced some sort of winter weather warning over the past few days with an Arctic blast bringing subzero temps to even Texas. Amid the cold snap, it’s important to keep yourself—and your pets and RV—safe and warm. 

Winter RVing comes with its own set of challenges. Cold temperatures, snowy roads, limited daylight, and extreme weather events can all make for a more difficult and dangerous trip.

However, with proper preparation and knowledge, you can safely navigate the winter roads and enjoy all the beauty and serenity of winter camping.

In this blog post, I’ll share tips on how to prepare your RV for winter, plan your winter RV trip, and drive safely in cold weather conditions. I’ll also provide tips on staying warm and comfortable in your RV during your winter trip.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV winter driving tips

It’s important to know how to safely navigate snowy and icy roads. Here are some tips to help you stay safe while winter RVing.

How to safely navigate snowy and icy roads

When driving on snowy or icy roads, patience is the key to staying safe. Following the 330 Rule will help set a good pace for your road trip and the following tips will help keep you safe:

  • Slow down and increase your following distance (it’ll give you extra time to stop)
  • Use your headlights and turn signals (rule of thumb: If your wipers are on your headlights should also be on)
  • Avoid sudden braking or accelerating so you don’t lose traction
  • Steer in the direction of a skid
  • Familiarize yourself with your RV’s heating and defrosting systems before you drive to keep your RV windows clear
Diamond Groove RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to handle skidding and sliding on winter roads

Never take black ice for granted! Just because you can’t see ice on the road doesn’t mean it’s not there. Mentally prepare yourself by imagining what you will do if you start to slide.

If your RV starts to skid or slide it’s important to stay calm. Steer in the direction of the skid and avoid braking or accelerating.

If your RV has anti-lock brakes, make sure to use them correctly by pressing them consistently and firmly. If your RV does not have anti-lock brakes, pump the brake pedal gently to slow down (pumping the brakes helps give you traction).

Sun Outdoors Salt Lake City (formerly Pony Express RV Park), North Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always carry an emergency kit for winter travel

It’s also essential to prepare an emergency kit for your RV road trip whether winter camping or en route to a warmer snowbird retreat (in our case, Arizona). This should include items such as blankets, warm clothing, a first aid kit, flashlights, warning triangles or flares, and a tool kit.

It’s also a good idea to include a small shovel, a bag of sand or kitty litter (for traction), and a bag of salt or de-icer.

Additionally, make sure to have a fully charged cell phone and a way to charge it while on the road.

Know how to properly use snow chains and tire chains

If you’re planning to travel on snowy or icy roads, it’s important to know how to properly use snow chains or tire chains. These devices can be a lifesaver in snowy conditions but they must be used correctly. Make sure to read the instructions carefully and practice putting them on before you hit the road.

If you’re going to be traveling entirely in snowy weather consider putting snow tires on your motorhome or tow vehicle and travel trailer.

Be aware of rules and regulations for winter driving in the states and provinces you plan to drive through. Know where and under what conditions snow tires and snow chains/tire chains are required.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to do if your RV is stranded in winter

If an emergency arises while winter RVing, it’s important to stay calm so you can think clearly. Call for help immediately and stay with your RV if possible. If you must leave your RV, make sure to take your phone, emergency kit, warm clothing, water, and a snack with you.

Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • Stay with your RV: An RV provides shelter and protection from the elements; it’s also much easier to spot an RV from the air than a person on foot.
  • Stay warm: Dress in warm layers, use a good-quality insulated mattress pad, and keep a duvet and extra blankets in the RV for added warmth. Use a space heater to supplement your RV’s heating system and make sure to keep your furnace or heating system serviced and maintained.
  • Create a signal for help: Place a brightly colored cloth or flag on the roof of your RV or on a nearby tree to signal for help. Keep a small light or lantern on at night (preferably one that is battery-operated and will not drain your house battery).
  • Conserve fuel and power: To conserve fuel and power only run essential systems such as the heating system and refrigerator. Turn off all lights and appliances when not in use.
  • Keep yourself hydrated and nourished: Ration your food and water to last for at least a few days in case you are stranded for an extended period of time.
  • Keep your phone on but preserve its battery: Turn on “battery saver mode” and only use it when trying to contact help.
Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dangers of carbon monoxide

This is must-know information to make sure that you are safe in your RV. Since carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, it can be an immediate danger to your health and, yes, some of your RV appliances do emit it.

How to Prevent and Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your RV

We need to know how to detect carbon monoxide in our RV. This is serious if you want to stay safe.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that you don’t expect to encounter when traveling the great outdoors. However, some RV appliances emit carbon monoxide which can be dangerous to your health. It’s important to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to prevent it while enjoying the RV lifestyle.

Read more…

How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your RV?

CO poisoning is entirely preventable. Protect yourself and your family by learning the symptoms of CO poisoning and how to prevent it.

Read more…

The Ultimate Guide to Cold Weather Camping

Whether you do winter RV camping by choice or by necessity, there are steps you’ll want to take to stay warm in your rig. When temps dip below 32 degrees, that’s when you have to worry about freezing pipes, increasing heat needs, and cold—and complaining—family members. 

Read more…

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Insulate your RV

Another important step in preparing your RV for winter is to insulate it against colder temperatures. This can be done by adding insulation to the walls, floor, and ceiling of your RV as well as around windows and doors. You can also use insulated window coverings or thermal curtains to keep the warm air inside and the cold air out.

How to stay warm while camping

While it is difficult to combat extreme cold, there are some surprisingly simple and inexpensive ways to help you stay warm when RVing in chilly temps. Taking these steps is also important for protecting your motorhome or towable from damage.

  • Keep windows and doors closed and use insulated window coverings or thermal curtains to keep the warm air inside
  • Use a space heater to supplement your RV’s heating system
  • Add weather stripping or door sweeps to your RV’s doors and windows to prevent drafts
  • Insulate your RV’s underbelly, pipes, and tanks with heat tape or foam
  • Use an RV skirt to reduce heat loss from under your RV
  • Keep the windows clean to allow maximum sunlight in during the day
  • Use a good-quality duvet and blankets to keep you warm during the night
  • Dress in layers and keep extra blankets in the RV for added warmth
  • In severe cold, confine yourself to one room and focus on heating that small space
Heated water hose and faucet protector © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check weather forecasts and road conditions

Before hitting the road, it’s essential to check the weather forecasts and road conditions for the route you plan to take. This will help you prepare for any potential winter weather such as snow, ice, wind, or freezing temperatures.

Know the winter driving restrictions by state

Some states and provinces restrict RV driving in certain weather conditions just like commercial motor vehicles.

For instance, Pennsylvania DOT puts motorhomes in Tier 1 (the most restrictive tier) when it comes to “winter weather events.”

It’s always a good idea to Google “winter driving restrictions in (state)” before you leave. This might spare you from getting stopped at a state border with different restrictions.

Also, check out the link to ALL the State Driving road conditions below.

It looks and feels like winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose the right route for winter driving

When planning your winter RV trip, it’s best to choose a route that is well-maintained and has lower elevations. This will help you avoid steep and winding roads that can be dangerous in snowy or icy conditions.

Avoid mountain passes and remote areas if possible as they can be more difficult to navigate in winter.

Many state Department of Transportation have interactive road maps that will show you which ones have ice and snow like this one from the Iowa DOT. The blue lines are roads that are partially covered.

And here is the link for road conditions for each state: Winter road conditions

There is a list of phone numbers and websites for each state. Select the website link to see each state’s road conditions.

I have a series of RV winter camping guides that links to valuable information and life-saving advice. Be sure to check that out.

Worth Pondering…

And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean

The All-time Coldest Temperatures Ever Recorded in Each State

Record-breaking cold, life-threatening wind chills plunge 150 million Americans into deep freeze

A bitter and potentially deadly blast of arctic air is continuing to charge its way across the U.S., dropping wind chills to as low as between negative 50 and negative 70 degrees across the northern Plains and 30 below zero in the Midwest triggering rare Hard Freeze Warnings along the Gulf Coast and helping to fuel a monster blizzard that will bring those frigid temperature across the Great Lakes and into the Northeast.

The dangerously cold arctic air began its week-long journey by surging to the south out of Canada last weekend dropping low temperatures Monday morning to negative 20 degrees and lower across northern Montana.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the arctic blast brings bitterly cold temperatures to much of the U.S. through Christmas weekend, you might be wondering how low the temperature has ever gone in your state.

All but one of the 50 states has documented a temperature below zero with Hawaii being the sole outlier having only dipped as low as 12 degrees. Nearly a dozen states have plunged to minus 50 degrees or colder.

January and February comprise the coldest time of the year for the majority of the U.S. so it should come as no surprise that’s when most of the records were achieved. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule.

Five states set their low-temperature records in late December including Nebraska, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s all-time record low wasn’t even achieved during the winter. The Mauna Kea Observatory at an elevation of 13,796 feet on the Big Island of Hawaii dipped to 12 degrees on May 17, 1979.

The lowest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. was minus 80 degrees in Prospect Creek, Alaska, north of Fairbanks, on January 23, 1971.

In the Lower 48, Montana holds the record for the all-time coldest temperature at minus 70 degrees, set at Rogers Pass—on the Continental Divide at 5,610 feet above sea level—on January 20, 1954.

Illinois is the most recent state to reach its lowest temperature on record. Mount Carroll, in the northwestern corner of the state plunged to minus 38 degrees on January 31, 2019.

Mount Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The longest-standing record in the U.S. is held by Mount Washington, New Hampshire, the highest mountain in the Northeast where the temperature bottomed out at minus 50 degrees nearly 140 years ago on January 22, 1885.

In the Northeast, New York can claim the coldest temperature ever recorded in the region with an all-time record low of minus 52 degrees set in Old Forge on February 18, 1979. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine all share the same record of minus 50 degrees.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All-time records in the South might be colder than you think. Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina have all dipped into the teens below zero while Alabama has been as cold as minus 27 degrees and Tennessee as low as minus 32 degrees.

The Midwest has a large range of low-temperature records with North Dakota and Minnesota claiming minus 60 degrees as their all-time record lows but states south of the Great Lakes such as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio have only dropped into the minus 30s due to winds off the lakes keeping temperatures relatively higher.

Most of the all-time record lows in the Western states were documented in the higher elevations. California’s record of minus 45 degrees was set in the heart of the Sierra Nevada in Boca at an elevation of 5,528 feet above sea level on January 20, 1937. The record low in Arizona was achieved at Hawley Lake where the temperature plunged to minus 40 degrees at 8,200 feet on January 7, 1971.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The chart below shows the all-time record low in each state according to data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

State               Minimum Temperature         Date                            Location

Alabama          -27 degrees F                          January 30, 1966        New Market

Alaska             -80 degrees F                          January 23, 1971        Prospect Creek Camp

Arizona           -50 degrees F                          January 7, 1971          Hawley Lake

Arkansas         -29 degrees F                          February 13, 1905      Gravett

California       -45 degrees F                          January 20, 1937        Boca

Colorado         -61 degrees F                          February 1, 1985        Maybell

Connecitut      -32 degrees F                          February 16, 1943      Falls Village

Delaware         -17 degrees F                          January 17, 1893        Millsboro

Florida                -2 degrees F                   February 13, 1899      Tallahassee

Georgia           -17 degrees F                          January 27, 1940        Beatum

Hawaii            12 degrees F                           May 17, 1979              Mauna Kea

Idaho               -60 degrees F                          January 18, 1943        Island Park Dam

Illinois            -38 degrees F                          January 31, 2019        Mt. Carroll

Indiana           -36 degrees F                          January 19, 1994        New Whiteland

Iowa                -47 degrees F                          January 12, 1912        Washta

Kansas            -40 degrees F                          February 13, 1905      Lebanon

Kentucky        -37 degrees F                          January 19, 1994        Shelbyville

Louisiana        -16 degrees F                          February 13, 1899      Minden

Maine              -50 degrees F                          January 16, 2009        Big Black River

Maryland        -40 degrees F                          January 13, 1912        Oakland

Massachusetts -35 degrees F                      January 5, 1904          Tauton

Michigan        -51 degrees F                          February 19, 1934      Vanderbilt

Minnesota       -60 degrees F                        February 2, 1996        Tower

Mississippi     -19 degrees F                          January 30, 1966        Corrinth

Missouri         -40 degrees F                          February 13, 1905      Warsaw

Montana          -70 degrees F                          January 20, 1954        Rogers Pass

Nebraska         -47 degrees F                          February 12, 1899      Bridgeport

Nevada            -50 degrees F                          January 8, 1937          San Jacinto

New Hampshire -50 degrees F                   January 22, 1985        Mount Washington

New Jersey     -34 degrees F                          January 5, 1902          River Vale

New Mexico   -50 degrees F                          February 1, 1951        Gavilan

New York       -52 degrees F                          February 18, 1879      Old Forge

North Carolina -34 degrees F                      January 21, 1985        Mount Mitchell

North Dakota  -60 degrees F                       February 15, 1936      Parshall

Ohio                -39 degrees F                          February 10, 1899      Milligan

Oklahoma       -31 degrees F                          February 10, 1911      Nowata

Oregon              -54 degrees F                          February 9, 1933        Ukiah

Pennsylvania  -42 degrees F                          January 5, 1904          Smethport

Rhode Island   -28 degrees F                          January 11, 1942        Wood River Junction

South Carolina -19 degrees F                         January 21, 1985        Caesar’s Head

South Dakota  -58 degrees F                          February 17, 1936      McIntosh

Tennessee       -32 degrees F                          December 30, 1917     Mountain City

Texas              -23 degrees F                          February 8, 1933        Seminole

Utah                -50 degrees F                          January 5, 1913          Strawberry Tunnel

Vermont          -50 degrees F                          December 30, 1933     Bloomfield

Virginia          -30 degrees F                          January 21, 1985        Mountain Lake

Washington    -48 degrees F                          December 30, 1968     Mazama and Winthrop

West Virginia -37 degrees F                          December 30, 1917     Lewisburg

Wisconsin       -55 degrees F                          February 2, 1996        Couderay

Wyoming        -66 degrees F                          February 9, 1933        Yellowstone NP

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What about the Great White North, you ask?

The following is a list of the all-time low temperatures ever recorded in Canada’s 10 provinces.

Alberta                 -78 degrees F (-61.1 C)    January 11, 1911        Fort Vermillion           

British Columbia -74 degrees F (-58.9 C)     January 31, 1947        Smith River

Manitoba        -63 degrees F (-52.8 C)          January 9, 1899          Norway House

New Brunswick -52 degrees F (-46.7 C)       January 18, 1925        Chipman

Newfoundland -60 degrees F (-55.1 C)         February 17, 1972      Esker

Nova Scotia    -42 degrees F (-41.1 C)          January 31, 1920        Upper Stewlacke

Ontario            -73 degrees F (-58.3 C)          January 23, 1935        Iroquois Falls

Prince Edward Island -35 degrees F (-37.2 C) January 26, 1884      South Kildare

Quebec            -66 degrees F (-54.4 C)          February 5, 1923        Douset

Saskatchewan -70 degrees F (-56.7 C)          February1, 1893         Prince Albert

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A careful study of the above chart reveals that the lowest temperature ever recorded in the United States (-80 degrees F in Alaska) is colder than the all-time low in Canada (-61 degrees in Alberta). But, how can that be?

In addition to the above 10 provinces Canada also has two far-north Territories—Northwest Territories and Yukon. The all-time low temperature recorded in Yukon was -81 degrees F (-63.0 C), 1 degree F colder than Alaska’s all-time low of -80 degrees F.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas! May your days be filled with peace, hope, and joy this holiday season as we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child!

Worth Pondering…

Christmas is the day that holds all time together.

—Alexander Smith

I’ve never gotten used to winter and never will.

—Jamaica Kincaid