How Safe is an RV in a Lightning Storm?

Do RVs attract lightning?

How safe is an RV in a lightning storm? That’s a loaded question and one I’m here to answer. There are many myths about RVs and lightning. What’s important is that we’re all armed and ready to do what’s legitimately called for in a lightning storm when we’re in an RV.

Preparedness is everything where safety is concerned, so let’s get right to it starting with the most basic.

Skyline Ranch Resort, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is lightning?

According to the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, lighting is defined as “a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere between clouds, the air, or the ground”.

In short, lightning is an extremely powerful electrical discharge that occurs during a thunderstorm. When lightning strikes the air becomes extremely hot—and when I say “extremely hot” I mean around 50,000 degrees F—far hotter than even the surface of the sun!

The thunder you hear is the heated air the lightning is passing through expanding quickly. Effectively, it’s like the boom generated by a supersonic plane.

Lightning can occur between clouds (cloud to cloud), from cloud to air, or from cloud to ground. Cloud to the ground is the type of lighting we’re most concerned about as it’s the most dangerous to us while we’re in our RVs.

Now let’s get into how safe an RV is in a lightning storm.

Capitol City RV Park, Montgomery, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How safe is an RV in a lightning storm?

There’s no getting around it—lightning storms can be extremely dangerous. If you’re in an RV, the key to your safety depends on the materials your rig is made of and the actions you take.

First, if your RV’s frame or roof—or the entire skin/outer structure—is made of metal/aluminum/steel you should be safe from lightning when you’re inside. Your electronics may take a hit unless you’ve disconnected them but the people inside the rig should be safe. And the good news is that many if not most modern RVs do have a metal frame.

More on severe weather: 6 Things You Need To Know about Camping in a Storm

If your rig has a roof made of aluminum or steel you’ll likely be safe inside your RV in a lightning storm. And if your RV roof is made of fiberglass but the frame of the rig is made of steel you’ll still be well protected.

If your RV is made entirely of other materials like wood or all-fiberglass then you’ll be safer inside your tow vehicle/toad. Contrary to popular belief, metal doesn’t attract lightning but it is very much capable of reducing its destructive impact by channeling it away and toward the ground.

And when metal forms a “cage” of sorts, it offers even more protection. More on that in just a moment. First, another note about metal.

Quail Ridge RV Park, Huachuca City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is it true that lightning only strikes metal?

Nope, that’s a myth. Lightning isn’t drawn to metal and it certainly doesn’t only strike metal. In fact, experts with the National Weather Service agree that metal has no bearing on the attraction of lightning.

In fact, the height of an object, the shape of an object (pointy), and isolation are the three primary factors that determine where lightning is most likely to strike. We’ve heard of lightning striking trees, for example. That’s because they tend to be all three things: tall, pointy, and isolated from other tall objects.

Skyline Ranch Resort, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a Faraday Cage?

So, the metal “cage” structure of cars provides particular protection against lightning due to a concept known as the “Faraday Cage”. This would also be true of any RV with a metal frame/“cage” but not all RVs are built in this way. So, if your rig doesn’t have steel/aluminum framework you should seek shelter elsewhere immediately.

Essentially, the Faraday Cage refers to the fact that a car is a large metal cage that conducts the lightning AROUND the outside metal instead of THROUGH the inside of the car. This isn’t new information. This goes all the way back to Benjamin Franklin in the mid-1700s. The principle was refined by a scientist named Michael Faraday in 1836 thus the name “Faraday Cage”.

The first takeaway here is clear: the protection offered by the Faraday Cage effect is the reason you’re safe inside a car during a lightning storm. Again, the same would apply to an RV with a metal frame or roof but if you’re camping in an RV made of other materials such as only wood and fiberglass, seek shelter elsewhere in a lightning storm.

However, the second important thing to remember is that the presence of the Faraday Cage doesn’t mean that the vehicle can’t be struck by lightning or impacted by lightning. It means that you’re safe INSIDE the vehicle (so long as you’re not in contact and/or close proximity to any metal connected to that outer “cage”).

If you’re outside of a vehicle that has been struck, DO NOT touch the vehicle. The people inside are safe. But if you touch the vehicle, you may not be. If the strike has just occurred and the metal is still electrified you could be shocked if you walk up to the vehicle or touch it.

Skyline Ranch Resort, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What should I do if I’m inside my RV in a lightning storm?

How safe your RV is in a lightning storm will largely depend on what you do. There are several protective actions you can take if you’re inside your RV during a storm. 

One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is something you can do right now and that is to learn something about the construction of your RV so that you’ll know when the time comes whether you’re safe to remain inside your rig or whether you need to take shelter in your toad/tow car.

More on severe weather: Lightning and Thunderstorms: Safety Tips for RVers

Here are several other actions you can take to increase your safety in a lightning storm:

Irwins RV Park, Valemount, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Move away from trees

Always move away from trees. This is very important. Not only can trees or branches fall onto your RV in windy storm conditions but trees are tall and pointy and sometimes isolated. You may recall that these are the three most likely factors to attract a lightning strike.

You don’t want to be near trees in your RV during a lightning storm. Even if you’re taking shelter in a car, move that car away from trees. While you may be perfectly safe from the lightning itself inside a car or RV, you’re not safe from falling trees. And being crushed is likely no more fun than being electrocuted!

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Move away from water

Water isn’t safe in a lightning storm. Lightning strikes the water with some regularity. And water conducts electricity. This is why it’s particularly important to know the weather forecast before you head out on the water in a boat, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or another vessel. It is unsafe to be on the water in a lightning storm.

If your RV is parked on the beach, lakeside, or riverside, move your RV up to a parking area or other safe location. Just remember to look around for flag poles, light poles, trees, and other tall, pointy structures, and stay away from them as well.

Unplug your RV from electrical outlet

In preparation for a lightning storm, one of the first things you’ll want to do is disconnect your RV from any electrical outlet. DISCONNECT the RV from the electrical outlet before the storm comes close.

The reason for this is to protect your RV’s electrical system and the electrical/electronic components connected to it from potentially damaging surges caused by lightning striking nearby. So, if possible, unplug appliances and disconnect or shut down electronics.

More on severe weather: Hail Can Be a Killer Especially For Your RV

Again, if you’re inside an RV with a metal roof or metal frame, or if you take shelter in your tow vehicle or elsewhere, you’ll be safe. But to avoid damaging your RV’s electronics, you’ll want to be as disconnected as possible.

Skyline Ranch Resort, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring in awnings and bring down antennas

Antennae are the tall, pointy, isolated lightning attractors I warned you about earlier. Bring them in ahead of the storm and store them safely. Awnings should never be left out in inclement weather, anyway… since wind or heavy rain can easily damage them.

Irwins RV Park, Valemount, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay in the center of the RV away from windows and doors

During the storm remain in the center of your RV as far away from windows and doors as practical. Doors and windows are the least safe zones of your RV and staying away from them mean you’re safer.

This is due to two things: (1) window and door frames are almost always metal and as such are a point for you to come into contact with electricity from a lightning strike and (2) high winds from the storm could hurl objects into/through the windows potentially injuring you.

Keep your family, pets included, in the center of the rig until the storm passes.

Stay abreast of weather information using a smart phone or Emergency Weather Radio

The ability to stay informed of the storm’s arrival and passage is critical. Your smartphone may be capable of delivering that information to you via apps like Storm Shield or NOAA Weather Radar Live (look for the “Clime: NAA Weather Radar Live” app in your device’s app store) can keep you abreast of important information. However, if a cell tower is rendered incapable of offering you a connection or if you’re simply not in an area where you have good cell service your smartphone won’t be useful.

More on severe weather: 5 Tips for Avoiding Extreme Weather While RVing

For this reason, it’s always a good idea to travel with (or even to have at home) an emergency weather radio. Some are able to operate on batteries and/or by crank and will give you access to AM radio stations and emergency broadcasts.

Irwins RV Park, Valemont, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive to a stronger shelter

And finally, if you’re not safe where you are, you need to drive to a stronger shelter. If you can get to a department store or any type of public building to take shelter, you’ll be increasing your safety and that of your family members.

Surely this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway—never, ever leave pets in your RV if you take shelter in another building. Even if pets aren’t typically allowed in a grocery store where you’re taking temporary shelter, for example, bring your pets with you but be sure to keep them leashed or caged (depending on the pet), and keep complete control of your pets at all times inside the building.

Worth Pondering…

In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.

—Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Flash Floods: Safety Tips for RVers

TURN AROUND DON’T DROWN

Historic rainfall around St. Louis, Missouri on Tuesday (July 26, 2022) led to flash flooding that submerged cars in a river of water on Interstate 70 and trapped people inside their homes. Flash flooding led to numerous road closures across the St. Louis metropolitan area after a record-setting 6 to 10 inches of rainfall caused widespread flash flooding, the National Weather Service’s (NWS) office in St. Louis reported. St. Louis recorded 8.06 inches of rainfall in five hours since midnight shattering the city’s old daily rainfall record of 6.85 inches logged in August 1915, the NWS said.

Flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devastating flash floods throughout eastern Kentucky have left eight residents dead, dozens of homes submerged in water, and others completely swept away from their foundations. Multiple counties across Appalachia Kentucky have endured torrential rains since early Thursday morning (July 28, 2022) as floodwaters began rushing down the hillsides and completely swallowing up portions of the Kentucky River sending residents searching for high ground until rescue teams could save them.

Airports, parking lots, and the entire Las Vegas Strip which houses some of the world’s most famous casinos and hotels were also flooded Thursday. Heavy rain filled countless buildings as the city put a flash flood and severe thunderstorm warning in place.

Clean-up following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People often have a hard time envisioning the power of moving water. Each year when heavy rains pummel North America’s deserts or mountains, another camper endures a flash flood camping weather disaster. Those who live to tell about it are shocked to learn how these torrential storms can destroy everything in its path—including RVs.

The severity and speed of flash floods make them one of the most harrowing weather events adventurers might encounter. They occur when excessive water fills normally a dry canyon or wash and when creeks and rivers rise rapidly from rainfall within their watershed.

Clean-up following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, a creek that’s only six inches deep in the mountains can swell to a ten-foot-deep raging river in less than an hour if a thunderstorm lingers over an area for an extended period of time.

More on severe weather: Lightning and Thunderstorms: Safety Tips for RVers

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), flash flooding can happen nationwide. It is also the number one weather-related killer in the U.S. On average, 86 people die each year because they attempted to drive through floodwaters—and unfortunately, that number is increasing.

It takes as little as six inches of water for a vehicle to be swept away.

Evacuation following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to FEMA:

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and potential stalling
  • One foot of water will float many vehicles
  • Two feet of rushing water will carry away most vehicles including SUVs and pickups
Clean-up following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, water one foot deep typically exerts 500 pounds of lateral force on a vehicle. Once your vehicle is floating, the floodwater becomes your steering wheel. If that water is moving, your vehicle could be swept away, tipped on its side or flipped.

Rising water can enter your vehicle in a manner of minutes, even seconds.

Evacuation following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best advice is never to drive through flood waters of unknown depth. As the NWS has campaigned for years: TURN AROUND DON’T DROWN!

NEVER try to walk, swim, or drive through such swift water. If you come upon flood waters, STOP! TURN AROUND AND GO ANOTHER WAY.

More on severe weather: 5 Tips for Avoiding Extreme Weather While RVing

Some people risk destroying their vehicles and potentially losing their lives by driving through floodwaters. It’s a scary experience to come across rising water on the road during a rainstorm, not knowing if you’ll stall out. It is not worth the risk!

Flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is Flash Flooding?

Flooding begins within six hours and often within three hours of heavy rainfall (or other cause). Flash Floods can be caused by several things but are most often due to extremely heavy rainfall from thunderstorms. Flash Floods can occur due to dam or levee breaks and/or mudslides (debris flow).

The intensity of the rainfall, the location, and distribution of the rainfall, the land use and topography, vegetation types and growth/density, soil type, and soil water content all determine how quickly the flash flooding may occur and influence where it may occur.

Flash Flooding occurs so quickly that people are caught off-guard. Their situation may become dangerous if they encounter high, fast-moving water while traveling.

Evacuation following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How do Flash Floods occur?

Several factors contribute to flash flooding. The two key elements are rainfall intensity and duration. Intensity is the rate of rainfall and duration is how long the rain lasts. Topography, soil conditions, and ground cover also play an important role.

Flooding along rivers often occur seasonally when spring rains coupled with melting snows fill river basins with too much water, too quickly. Torrential rains from hurricanes or tropical storms can also produce river flooding.

More on severe weather: Severe Weather: Tornado Safety Tips for RVers

Occasionally, floating debris or ice can accumulate at a natural or man-made obstruction and restrict the flow of water. Water held back by the ice jam or debris dam can cause flooding upstream. Subsequent flash flooding can occur downstream if the obstruction should suddenly release.

Flash floods occur within a few minutes or hours of excessive rainfall, a dam or levee failure, or a sudden release of water held by an ice jam. Flash floods can roll boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings and bridges, and scour out new channels. Rapidly rising water can reach heights of 30 feet or more. Furthermore, flash flood-producing rains can also trigger catastrophic mud slides. You will not always have a warning that these deadly, sudden floods are coming. Flash flooding occurs within six hours of the rain event. Flooding is a longer term event and may last a week or more.

Evacuation following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where do Flash Floods occur?

Flash Flooding is possible anywhere and everywhere. The normally tranquil streams and creeks in your area can become raging torrents if heavy rain falls overhead or even upstream of your location. Flash Flooding can also occur on city streets and highway underpasses.

Key points to keep in mind include:

  • Do not attempt to cross any water higher than your ankles
  • As little as six inches of water flowing quickly can knock an adult down
  • Less than two feet of water can sweep a car away or stall it out with you stuck inside
  • You rarely have time to move your RV; get to higher ground and stay safe

TURN AROUND DON’T DROWN

Flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some historical data

Dam break: May 31, 1889, Johnstown, Pennsylvania; the worst flood in United States history; 36-40 foot wall of water; 2,200 died

River flood: December 1991-January 1992, south-central Texas; wide-spread river flooding on the Guadalupe, Brazos, Trinity, and Colorado River basins; up to 17 inches of rain; 15 died; $100 million in damages

Flash flood: June 14, 1990, Shadyside, Ohio; four inches of rain in less than two hours produced a 30-foot high wall of water; 26 died; $6-8 million in damages

Flash flood: August 1, 1985, Cheyenne, Wyoming; six inches of rain in three hours; 12 died; $61 million in damages

Flash flood: June 9, 1972 Black Hills, South Dakota; 15 inches of rain in five hours; 238 died; $164M in damages

Plan ahead: Identify where to go if told to evacuate.

Evacuation following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose campsites carefully to avoid flash flood camping disasters

Flash floods are especially common in the desert. But according to Scientific American, flash floods can happen in both urban and remote settings. Pretty mountain areas are especially vulnerable if the snow melts quickly after a rain storm. Other susceptible areas to worry about are recently burned hillsides.

More on severe weather: Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

Weather experts also say that fast-moving water can take out everything in its path—even the largest RVs. The risk is there but don’t let it keep you at home. If you know how to avoid a flash flood camping weather disaster in the first place, you can stay safe. The campsite you choose to park in is the best place to begin.

Evacuation following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Disaster-proof your campsite

Many RVers love the adventure of wilderness camping. When wilderness RV camping, safety is very important. Don’t park your rig until you find a safe-looking site with a low risk of flooding.

Use common sense and pay attention to your local surroundings. Assess the area. If there’s even a small chance of rain, don’t camp in a canyon or near low spots or anywhere with steep mountain walls closing in on you.

Clean-up following a flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep a weather band radio available especially when camping in storm-prone areas. Leave before a major storm is forecast to strike.

Check weather reports. Flash floods can strike miles from the origin of a storm. Don’t assume that blue skies overhead mean it is safe. Keep an eye on the weather forecast for your region.

Know your escape route. If rain starts falling and your gut instinct is telling you to leave, take a look around to find the fastest way out to safety.

If hazardous weather prompts evacuation warnings by officials, do what is requested. If you’re lucky enough to drive your RV out of the campground, don’t waste time taking your hoses, chairs, etc. Your sewer hose isn’t worth your life.

Flash flood at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In conclusion

Preparing for weather oddities and calamities is part of the RV lifestyle. Nobody expects a flash flood camping disaster but things happen fast when the water rises and it only takes minutes for a deadly catastrophe. If all else fails and you still get trapped in a campground during a flash flood, don’t try to drive your way out of it. Run for the highest ground you can find and you just might live to tell about your dramatic flash flood campground evacuation.

Worth Pondering…

In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.

—Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Heat Alert: The Hidden Symptoms of Extreme Heat

Heat stroke is rare but there are other symptoms people often are not aware of

The consequences of extreme heat can be severe: last year, more than 600 people died during the heat dome in British Columbia and, in 2018, up to 70 deaths in Quebec were linked to a heat wave there. 

In Europe, more than 1,100 people have died from the heat in Spain and Portugal in recent weeks. The UK recorded its hottest-ever temperature last week (July 19, 2022) with a reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius in eastern England. What’s that in Fahrenheit? Remember what your sixth-grade science teacher explained: Multiply by 1.8 then add 32. That comes out to 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not that many folks are asking. Only the US, Belize, Palau, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands use Fahrenheit as their official temperature scale.

More than 100 million Americans are under a heat-related alert and at risk of heat-related illnesses, at the time of writing. Temperatures across much of the country are in the 90s to 100 degrees or higher. 

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat Advisories and Excessive Heat Warnings are in effect from Texas through the southern Plains and lower Mississippi and Ohio valleys where temperatures are expected to reach triple-digits in many locations. The Excessive Heat Warnings include major cities in Texas such as Dallas, Lufkin, San Angelo, Houston, and San Antonio. Outside of Texas, the warning includes Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Monroe, Louisiana. Heat Advisories are in effect elsewhere from New Orleans north to Birmingham and Huntsville in Alabama, Nashville, Tennessee, and Paducah, Kentucky.

You can die from this kind of heat if you’re not careful, especially if you work or recreate outdoors.

A man who was hiking on an unmarked trail in southwestern South Dakota that was featured in a social media challenge died when he and another hiker ran out of water. The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said 22-year-old Maxwell Right of St. Louis was hiking in Badlands National Park Wednesday (July 20, 2022) when he collapsed and died of suspected dehydration and exposure.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued an Excessive Heat Warning for portions of Arizona as temperatures in the Phoenix area could reach 116°F. The counties included in the warning are La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pinal, Pima, Yavapai, and Yuma.

More on severe weather: Arrival of Summer: On Dehydration, Hurricane Season & RVs

What temperature threshold triggers a heat warning varies depending on your location but the symptoms of heat-related illnesses remain the same. The thresholds that trigger Excessive Heat Watches, Excessive Heat Warnings, and Heat Advisories are not clear-cut, however.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since every region of the United States and Canada experiences a different climate, people become accustomed to the climate of the region in which they live. This means what is hot to a longtime resident of Maine or northern British Columbia might not be hot to someone who has spent many years in Florida or Texas.

In general, locations farther north don’t have to be as hot for heat alerts to be issued by the NWS because extreme heat is less frequent there. Areas farther south are more accustomed to hot, humid weather, so a higher threshold must be met before watches, warnings or advisories are posted. If this wasn’t the case, parts of the South would be under a Heat Advisory nearly every day in the summer.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not (just) the heat, it’s the humidity

The point at which a combination of heat and humidity becomes especially dangerous or even deadly is explained by scientists as “wet-bulb temperature”— the lowest temperature at which an object can cool down due to evaporating moisture.

Imagine a thermometer wrapped in a wet cloth: the water will keep evaporating from the cloth up until a certain level of humidity when the air contains too much moisture for evaporation to continue. Because of the evaporative effect, the temperature of the thermometer will be lower than the air around it—that is, until evaporation stops.

More on severe weather: Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat-related illnesses arise when an individual is exposed to environmental heat and their own body is not able to accommodate or acclimatize quickly. These symptoms are potentially life-threatening and should be taken seriously when they happen. But it’s not just about heat stroke.

There’s a spectrum of heat-related illness symptoms.

Heat-related illnesses can range from mild, requiring cooling and rehydration, to severe—requiring emergency medical treatment. 

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yellow Zone: Mild heat-related illness

Heat edema occurs when blood vessels dilate and blood accumulates in the hands and feet due to gravity, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with diabetes, cirrhosis, and heart conditions are at a higher risk. The treatment is to elevate the swollen area to drain it.

Watch for: Swollen ankles, feet, or hands.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat rashes occur when sweat glands get blocked or inflamed. The CDC recommends keeping the rash area dry and applying powder to increase comfort.  Heat rashes commonly occur in sweaty areas like your groin, your neck, or your armpits.

Watch for: Rashes on the face, chest, arms, and groin.

Heat cramps happen when the body loses salt and water and is treated by replenishing carbohydrates and electrolytes with a snack, water, or sports drink.

Watch for: Cramps in abdomen, arms, and calves.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Orange Zone: Moderate to severe heat-related illness

Heat syncope when someone feels light-headed after standing up is treated with rest and relief from the heat, sitting or lying down in a cool place, and slowly drinking water, clear juice, or a sports drink. 

Watch for: Fainting (short duration), light-headiness from standing, sitting, or lying position.

Heat exhaustion happens when you experience an excessive loss of water and salt usually through sweating. It is treated by cooling down with cold packs, washing the head, face, and neck with cold water, and frequently sipping cool water. 

Watch for: Weakness, dizziness, headache, fatigue, muscle cramps, vomiting. 

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Zone: Severe heat-related illness 

Heat strokes occur when the body’s cooling mechanism fails so you stop sweating and internal temperature heats up. Emergency medical care is required at this point. It helps to cool down with cold water, an ice bath, and soaking clothes with cool water. 

Watch for: Confusion, hallucinations, less sweat, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, throbbing headache, loss of consciousness, and altered mental state.

More on severe weather: 5 Tips for Avoiding Extreme Weather While RVing

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Staying Hydrated – Staying Healthy

When the temperatures rise, getting enough to drink is important regardless of the activity. Keeping the body hydrated helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. And, it helps the muscles work efficiently.

If you’re well hydrated, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard,” said John Batson, M.D, a sports medicine physician with Lowcountry Spine & Sport in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dehydration can be a serious condition that can lead to the above heat-related illnesses—ranging from swollen feet or a headache to life-threatening illnesses such as heat stroke. But staying hydrated is a daily necessity no matter what the thermometer says.

How much water should you drink each day? It’s a simple question with no easy answer.

Studies have produced varying recommendations over the years. But your individual water needs depend on many factors including your health, exercise intensity and duration, and climatic conditions.

No single formula fits everyone. But knowing more about your body’s need for fluids will help you estimate how much water to drink each day.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For most people, water is the best thing to drink to stay hydrated. Sources of water also include foods such fruits and vegetables which contain a high percentage of water. Sports drinks with electrolytes may be useful for people doing high intensity, vigorous exercise in very hot weather though they tend to be high in added sugars and calories.

More on severe weather: Lightning and Thunderstorms: Safety Tips for RVers

It’s also best to avoid drinks containing caffeine which acts as a diuretic and causes you to lose more fluids.

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith

Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

Look out for these heat exhaustion symptoms while camping

Dangerous temperatures exceeding 105 degrees Fahrenheit in select areas of the Southeast and Southwest have prompted excessive heat warnings. The weather conditions pose a threat to young children, older adults, and anyone who doesn’t take the right safety precautions before and during the heat wave.

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last year, 43 Texas State Parks reported 102 heat-related illnesses in humans and pets. Since January 1, 54 heat-related incidents have already been reported, compared to 34 reported by this time last year, according to a news release from the department in late June.

Heat-related incidents can be prevented with a few measures to ensure that both you and your family can safely get through this heat wave.

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a very real threat to anyone who spends a lot of time in the sun. Even though it’s not always obvious from the get-go, several heat exhaustion symptoms can let you know there’s a problem. 

As someone who has experienced heat exhaustion, it’s not a fun time! It interrupted my whole day and left me feeling weak, nauseous, and shaky. 

Below, I’ll provide a comprehensive guide to heat exhaustion including its prevention, symptoms, treatment options, and the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prevention

With temperatures soaring into the triple digits, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shared their suggestions for staying safe in the outdoors. Here are their top six heat hacks:

>> Hydrate: It’s important to drink at least 16 ounces of water every hour in the heat to replenish your body and prevent dehydration. Don’t forget to bring enough for your four-legged family members too.

More on severe weather: Arrival of Summer: On Dehydration, Hurricane Season & RVs

>> Block the Rays: Apply a generous amount of sunscreen or sunblock before heading outdoors. Be sure to reapply every couple of hours and after swimming or sweating.

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Dress Smart: Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing; a wide-brimmed hat, correct shoes, sunscreen, and wet bandanas to keep you cool while in the sun. For pets, protect paws against blistering by hitting the trails during cooler times of the day when the ground isn’t hot or by putting booties on pets to help shield paws from the hot ground. Touch the pavement or ground with the back of your hand. If you cannot hold it there for five seconds, the surface is too hot for your dog’s paws.

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Stay Salty: Food helps keep up energy and replace salt lost from sweating. Eating snacks such as jerky, granola, trail mix, tuna, and dried fruit is a fantastic way to nourish your body while on the trails.

>> Buddy System: Two brains are better than one. It’s beneficial to have someone with you in hot conditions so you can look after each other on the trail. With high temperatures, heat-related illnesses are common, and having a friend around to help recognize the early symptoms can save you from getting sick.

Peralta Trailhead, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Plan Ahead: Study the map and have it with you, avoid relying on your phone for maps since service may be unavailable in back-country areas. Average hikers move at 2 miles per hour, so allow yourself plenty of time to avoid hiking in the heat of the day. Make sure to rest in a cool or shaded area to recover from the heat if necessary. It is also a good idea to let someone know your plan before you hit the trails and what time you should be back. That way, if you become lost, people know where to look.

Desert Hot Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be aware of the heat and humidity index. A relative humidity of 60 percent or higher makes it hard for sweat to evaporate off your body. This can then lead to overheating, reports WebMD. You can experience heat exhaustion on any warm day but the risk increases exponentially if the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more. If the heat and humidity are high, limit strenuous activity and try to stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day. 

More on severe weather: Hurricane Season: Staying Safe in your RV

Know if you are in a high-risk group. Heat exhaustion can affect anyone but the most vulnerable are those who are young and old: Children younger than 5 and adults older than 65 need to take extra precautions to avoid heat exhaustion.

Palm Desert, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you do plan to spend time outdoors during a particularly hot or humid day, you can form good habits to protect yourself. First of all, hydrate! Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you’re not feeling thirsty. 

Wear appropriate clothing and sun protection. Wear loose, light-colored clothing that is breathable. A breathable wide-brimmed hat will help you stay cool. Apply sunscreen frequently as well. If you have severe sunburn, you’re more likely to develop heat exhaustion because your body is warmer than usual according to Health Line.

Finally, NEVER leave children or pets in cars on hot days. This is common sense for most people but a reminder is still needed. Even adults can become overheated if they spend too much time in this environment! 

Palmetto State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Symptoms

First things first, you need to know the warning signs for heat exhaustion. This usually builds up over time and doesn’t hit you all at once. Some people might experience every symptom while others only have a few.

According to the Mayo Clinic the heat exhaustion symptoms and warning signs to watch for include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cool, damp skin
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Low blood pressure (especially when standing up quickly)
  • Swollen feet or hands
  • Shallow breathing
  • Dark urine
  • Pale skin
  • Fainting
  • Confusion

If you or someone around you is experiencing these heat exhaustion symptoms, it’s important to treat them immediately. Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke if it isn’t promptly dealt with. 

More on severe weather: Severe Weather: Tornado Safety Tips for RVers

Tucson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Treatment options

Once heat exhaustion has set in, there are several things you can do to treat yourself or others according to the Cleveland Clinic. It’s best if you can get someone to help you because a person who is affected shouldn’t be moving around too much. 

First of all, heat exhaustion occurs when your body gets too hot and cannot cool itself down. This is especially common in areas with high heat and high humidity (because your sweat cannot evaporate and cool you down). 

Your priority needs to be lowering your body temperature. If possible, go indoors and find a cool room and lie down. Otherwise, look for a shady area where you can get out of the sun. Don’t exert yourself in this condition. 

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You need to hydrate. Heat exhaustion commonly occurs when someone is dehydrated because they don’t have enough fluids to produce cooling sweat. Drink cool water or sports drinks to replenish fluids and electrolytes. Don’t gulp it down, but take small sips so you can slowly adjust. If you drink too much too soon, you’ll cause more harm than good. Avoid soda and alcohol during this time. 

Finally, try to cool down with exterior methods. You can use cold washcloths, air conditioning, fans, or a cool bath/shower to lower your body temperature. If the affected person is wearing tight, restrictive clothing, that should also be removed. 

More on severe weather: Hail Can Be a Killer Especially For Your RV

Try all of the methods above for about one hour. If the heat exhaustion symptoms don’t improve during this period, it’s time to seek medical attention.

Usery Mountain Park, Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat stroke

Heat exhaustion isn’t fun to deal with but most people who receive proper treatment make a full recovery within a day or two. However, if the exhaustion is left untreated, it can rapidly change into heat stroke. 

This is a serious medical emergency that can end in death. A heat stroke occurs when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. It can cause brain damage and can be life-threatening for most people reports the Mayo Clinic.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to Health Line, symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • High fever (104 or higher)
  • Flushed, red skin
  • Headache
  • Delirium
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Coma
El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If heat stroke has begun to set in, you need to seek medical help immediately. While you wait for them to arrive, do everything possible to lower the body temperature of the affected person. Immerse them in a cold bath, mist the skin with cool water, or apply ice packs to high blood flow areas (wrists, neck, groin, armpits). Get them out of the sun and keep them still until help arrives, states the Mayo Clinic.

More on severe weather: Handling Cold Weather in Your RV

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke need to be taken seriously. If you feel like you’re becoming dizzy, weak, or nauseous after spending time in the sun, take care of yourself as soon as possible. These conditions can quickly get worse if you ignore them. 

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith

Severe Weather: Tornado Safety Tips for RVers

Tips for staying safe when camping in a tornado region

If you are planning on RVing or camping in a tornado region there are basic tips and information you should know before you go. 

The United States averages 1,200 tornados a year, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Doppler radar has improved the ability to forecast tornados but still only gives a warning of three to 30 minutes. With such little forewarning, NOAA stresses that tornado preparedness is critical.

An approaching storm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a tornado?

A tornado is a narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. Because wind is invisible, it is hard to see a tornado unless it forms a condensation funnel made up of water droplets, dust, and debris. Tornadoes can be among the most violent phenomena of all atmospheric storms we experience.

Where do tornadoes occur?

Tornadoes occur in many parts of the world including Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. Even New Zealand reports about 20 tornadoes each year. Two of the highest concentrations of tornadoes outside the U.S. are Argentina and Bangladesh.

An approaching storm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many tornadoes occur in the U.S. each year?

About 1,200 tornadoes hit the U.S. yearly. Since official tornado records only date back to 1950, we do not know the actual average number of tornadoes that occur each year. Plus, tornado spotting and reporting methods have changed a lot over the last several decades which mean that we are observing more tornadoes that actually happen.

Related: Stay Safe this Summer by Using These Outdoor Heat Hacks

Where is Tornado Alley?

Tornado Alley is a nickname invented by the media to refer to a broad area of relatively high tornado occurrence in the central United States. Various “Tornado Alley” maps look different because tornado occurrence can be measured in many ways: by all tornadoes, tornado county segments, intense and violent tornadoes only, and databases with different periods.

However, the idea of a “tornado alley” can be misleading. The U.S. tornado threat shifts from the Southeast in the cooler months of the year toward the southern and central Plains in May and June and the northern Plains and Midwest during early summer. Tornadoes can occur and have been reported in all fifty states!

Please remember, violent tornadoes do happen outside “Tornado Alley” every year.

An approaching storm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When are tornadoes most likely?

Tornado season usually refers to the time of year the U.S. sees the most tornadoes. The peak “tornado season” for the southern Plains (e.g., Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas) is from May into early June. On the Gulf coast, it is earlier in the spring. In the northern Plains and upper Midwest (North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota), tornado season is in June and July. But, remember, tornadoes can happen at any time of year. Tornadoes can also happen at any time of day or night, but most tornadoes occur between 4–9 p.m.

What is the difference between a Tornado WATCH and a Tornado WARNING?

A Tornado WATCH is issued by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center meteorologists who watch the weather 24/7 across the entire U.S. for weather conditions that are favorable for tornadoes and severe weather. A watch can cover parts of a state or several states. Watch and prepare for severe weather and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio to know when warnings are issued.

Related: Hurricane Season: Staying Safe in your RV

A Tornado WARNING is issued by the local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office meteorologists who watch the weather 24/7 over a designated area. This means a tornado has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar and there is a serious threat to life and property to those in the path of the tornado. A tornado warning indicates that you should ACT NOW to find safe shelter! A warning can cover parts of counties or several counties in the path of danger.

An approaching storm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How is tornado strength rated?

To determine the strength of a tornado, experts examine the damage it caused. From this information, we can estimate the wind speeds.

Originally developed by Dr. Theodore Fujita in 1971, NOAA placed the Enhanced F-Scale in use in 2007 as an update to the original F-Scale.

The EF-Scale takes into account more variables than the original Fujita Scale (F-Scale) when assigning a wind speed rating to a tornado, incorporating 28 damage indicators such as building type, structures, and trees. For each damage indicator, there are 8 degrees of damage ranging from the beginning of visible damage to destruction of the damage indicator.

The original F-scale did not take these details into account. The original F-Scale historical database will not change. An F5 tornado rated years ago is still an F5 but the wind speed associated with the tornado may have been somewhat less than previously estimated. A correlation between the original F-Scale and the EF-Scale has been developed. This makes it possible to express ratings in terms of one scale to the other, preserving the historical database.

Fujita Scale (F-Scale)

Based on this scale tornados are rated as follows:

EF Rating = 3 Second Gust in MPH

  • 0 = 65-85 mph
  • 1 = 86-110 mph
  • 2 = 111-135 mph
  • 3 = 136-165 mph
  • 4 = 166-200 mph
  • 5 = Over 200 mph
An approaching storm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tornado Warning Systems

If you are RVing near a small town, chances are there is a siren system that can be heard for several miles. Take a moment when you first arrive at your RV Park to find out about the tornado and storm warning systems for your area, even if you are staying only a short time. 

Tornado Shelters

Find out if your park has an onsite storm shelter or where the nearest shelter is located. Basements and underground shelters are the safest, but small, sturdy inside rooms and hallways provide adequate protection during a tornado, as well.

Related: Camping Awareness: Wildfire Safety Tips That Could Save Your Life

If there is no shelter on site, alternatives might be the park’s shower or bathroom stalls. If there is a sturdy building with closets or an inside hallway try to take shelter there. If none of these exist, drive to the nearest shelter as quickly as is safe. Keep your seatbelt on. 

Be careful! Tornadoes can form and be in contact with the ground without a fully condensed funnel!

Do RVs attract tornadoes? Of course not! It may seem that way, considering many tornado deaths occur in them and that some of the most graphic reports of tornado damage come from campgrounds, RV parks, and mobile home communities. The reason for this is that RVs and mobile homes are, in general, much easier for a tornado to damage and destroy than well-built houses and office buildings. A brief, relatively weak tornado that may have gone undetected in the wilderness or misclassified as severe straight-line thunderstorm winds while doing minor damage to sturdy houses, can blow an RV apart. Historically, mobile home parks have been reliable indicators, not attractors, of tornadoes.

An approaching storm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tornado preparedness plan

NOAA’s and the American Red Cross’ recommended actions include:

  • Monitoring an NOAA Weather Radio
  • Know where to go for shelter, preferably within walking distance
  • Stow chairs and barbecues and other objects that could become projectiles
  • Go immediately when a tornado warning is issued
  • Wherever you find shelter stay away from windows
  • DO NOT plan on staying inside your RV
  • Bring your pets, if allowed, in a carrier
  • Grab only essentials (purse, ID, cash) and only if easily accessible
  • Don’t waste time searching for anything
  • Practice your tornado drill periodically

Signs of potential tornado 

  • Electrical charge in the air
  • Large hail
  • Lightning
  • Roaring noise
  • Grayish/greenish clouds
  • Visibly rotating clouds
  • Wall cloud that appears as thunderclouds dropping close to the ground
  • Cloud progressively extending down to the ground, increasingly funnel-shaped
  • Rotating dust or debris rising from the ground, often “reaching” towards a descending funnel-shaped cloud
An approaching storm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inland and plains tornados

Tornados that develop on the plains and most parts of the country often are accompanied by hail or lightning. These warning signs are your signals to seek shelter until the storm passes. We tend to think of tornados as “approaching” from some distance. Bear in mind that every tornado begins somewhere. If that “somewhere” is close to you, you won’t have much time to get to a shelter.

Tornados can develop during the day or night. Naturally, nighttime tornados are the most frightening since you may not be able to see them coming, or might be asleep when they hit. 

An approaching storm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tornados spawned by hurricanes

Unlike inland tornados spawned from storms, those that develop in hurricanes often do so in the absence of hail and lightning. They can also develop days after a hurricane makes landfall but tend to develop during the daytime after the first few hours over land. 

Related: Six Heat Hacks to Stay Safe This Summer

Although tornados can develop in the hurricane’s rain bands, far from the eye or center of the storm, they are most likely to develop in the right front quadrant of the hurricane. If you know where you are about the hurricane’s eye and sections, you have a better chance of avoiding tornados. 

Obviously, evacuating before the hurricane makes landfall is the best choice you can make. Know when to get out of Dodge! Many situations can prevent you from getting as far away as you’d like, if at all. Running out of gas or diesel might be one of them.

Worth Pondering…

Outside the rain began to pour in sheets, and the wind howled. Giant pieces of hail began to pelt the building—banging off the skylights so hard that Simpson worried the glass might shatter. Then, as it had earlier in the day, the wind briefly let up. It was then Simpson heard a sound she had dreaded—a sound she couldn’t believe she was actually hearing. It was 2:40 p.m. and the tornado sirens in Moore started to wail.

―Holly Bailey, The Mercy of the Sky: The Story of a Tornado

Hail Can Be a Killer Especially For Your RV

There are four things that absolutely kill all recreational vehicles: water damage, neglect, accidents, and severe hail

If you are a careful owner that follows preventive maintenance guidelines and takes measures to reduce humidity in your rig you are well on the way to maintaining your RV in good condition.

That will eliminate water damage and neglect as possible destroyers. But there’s not much you can do about the forces of nature when they strike.

Camping at Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most forms of weather are not a problem while in your RV. People inside who aren’t touching anything conductive are safe. Lightning can damage wiring and electronics and even burn a small hole in the skin, but that is repairable. (So if you are in your RV and lightning is crashing down around you, stay put. You’re already in a good shelter.)

Heavy winds are likewise not usually a problem when situated in an RV park. If you are exceptionally concerned retract the slides.

But hail can be a killer. Hail can dimple the surface, rip holes in the skin, and destroy slide toppers.

Camping in Rapid City Campground and RV Park, Rapid City, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine a baseball dropped from an airplane flying at 30,000 feet. Now imagine that baseball reaching speeds of 120 mph as it falls to the ground—and imagine you’re under it!

Fortunately, most hail is small—usually less than 2 inches in diameter. The largest hailstone (nearly the size of a volleyball!) fell on July 23, 2010, in Vivian, South Dakota, and had a diameter of 8.0 inches, a circumference of 18.62 inches, and weighed just under 2 pounds.

Camping in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hail is a frequent occurrence through the nation’s heartland during spring and summer, especially the Plains states and Prairie provinces but it happen anywhere there’s a thunderstorm. The presence of large hail indicates very strong updrafts and downdrafts within the thunderstorm.

While most weather watchers had their eyes trained on the Gulf Coast, a severe thunderstorm swept through the Black Hills region in South Dakota, devastating much of the area’s campgrounds and leaving millions of dollars in damaged RVs and structures.

Camping in Arrow Campground, Wall, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hart Ranch Resort south of Rapid City was one of the parks hit hardest by the Monday, August 27, 2021 storm. Hail the size of baseballs destroyed vehicle windows and bodies as well as almost every RV skylight and vent. RV roofs also sustained significant damage. The storm hit suddenly just after 7 p.m. Many RVs at the park sustained interior damage when water poured through broken vents.

The storm also ravaged the Mount Rushmore KOA Resort, just six miles from the Mount Rushmore National Monument. Managers there reported most RVs and other vehicles sustained severe damage as did many of the roofed structures on the campground. About 90 percent of the roofs on their structures need to be replaced and about 80 percent of the vehicles on the park had broken windows. Most of the RVs parked sustained damage. Most of the roof vents on units were taken out.

RVs parked at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no 100 percent guaranteed way of avoiding hail damage other than keeping your RV parked undercover. Since that doesn’t work on the road or in an RV park, a few other strategies will help to reduce your risk.

Check the weather report along your route during the summer when thunderstorms are more likely. A good weather app on your phone or tablet that shows color radar will help you spot thunderstorm activity as it happens.

Tornado warnings are a major red flag since tornadoes are spawned from the same severe thunderstorms that produce hail. Consider altering your route to avoid the highest risk areas or delay departure to the following day.

Camping at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get off the road before the thunderstorm hits. There is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area. If you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm. Too many people wait far too long to get to a safe place when thunderstorms approach. Unfortunately, these delayed actions lead to many lightning deaths and injuries. 

When lightning and hail start happening it’s usually too late to look for shelter. Driving into hail at highway speeds will result in the hail smashing on the RV even harder, which increases the chance of permanent surface damage.

On-Ur-Way RV Park, Onawa, Iowa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hail can exceed the size of softballs and fall at speeds of over 100 mph, seriously injuring or killing anyone in its path. Even small hail driven by the wind can cause severe injuries.

DO NOT park under large trees or power lines, since these are easily felled by straight-line winds, which would be even worse. DO NOT stop in the middle of a lane under an overpass.

Camping at Dakota Campground, Mitchell, South © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the time hail damage is strictly cosmetic. This brings up the issue of whether to fix it or live with it. Talk to your trusted RV dealer and/or manufacturer before making your decision. There are no shortcuts to a good repair, so be wary of anyone who offers to fix it cheaply.

You may eventually encounter some hail, but it likely won’t be large enough to result in permanent damage. Don’t let a minor risk overshadow your travels—you’ll be fine and your RV probably will be too.

Worth Pondering…

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors

Cool Camping: Practical Steps for Staying Cool in your RV

Summer is upon us. In fact, as Walter Winchell wrote “It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.”

The Pacific Northwest is in one of the most intense heat waves ever recorded with the worst still to come. Portland, Oregon, hit 112 degrees Sunday (June 27) shattering the previous record by 5 degrees. Seattle set a record high, hitting 104 degrees the same day, breaking the previous record by 1 degree. Seattle also experienced it’s first back-to-back 100 degree days in history and then hit the hat trick Monday. The Western North American heat wave also extends into Northern California, Nevada, and Idaho.

Sacramento River at Redding, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Americans are not alone in feeling overheated. The same high-pressure system baking in the northwestern United States has also produced record-breaking heat in Western Canada.

On June 28, the temperature in Lytton, British Columbia, a town of fewer than 300 in the Fraser Canyon, hit 118.2 degrees smashing Canada’s old national heat record of 113 degrees. That’s 1 degree hotter than it’s ever been in Las Vegas, 1,300 miles to the south, and hotter than the all-time record highs for 31 states including several in the South. And by Tuesday, the temperature in Lytton soared to 121 degrees. Lytton is at 50 degrees N latitude.

As sad aftermath to these heat records, the fires then swept in. By 6 pm. Wednesday Lytton’s residents had been ordered to evacuate as explosive wildfires neared. As of this morning (Friday), the village lies in ashes. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the residents of this devastated community.

The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, on June 27, local records were set in areas such as Ashcroft (110.8 degrees) and Kamloops (111 degrees); in all, 59 weather stations in British Columbia set records for hottest temperatures recorded for that date. These were largely beaten in the following days (Kamloops, for instance, registered 114.4 degrees on June 28 and 117.1 degrees on June 29).

On June 28, records were set in Abbotsford at 109.2, Victoria at 103.6, and Port Alberni at 108.9. As of June 29, 103 all-time heat records were set across Western Canada, including east of the Rocky Mountains. In Alberta, Banff (97.9 degrees), Edmonton (100 degrees), Jasper (102.4 degrees), and Grande Prairie (104.4 degrees) have all seen the strongest heat ever measured in these communities. Nahanni Butte, Northwest Territories also set a regional record at 100.6 degrees.

Quail Creek State Park in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid these extreme weather conditions, this is prime travel time, the season for putting endless miles of road in the rearview mirror of your travel trailer, motorhome, or fifth wheel. Most RV excursions take place during the hottest months of the year and even RVs with excellent climate-control systems can get hot and stuffy. Here are some tips on staying cool when you hit the road—no matter the weather outside.

RVers want to stay cool. Whether you spend most of your time in the rig or simply want a cool, comfortable home to return to at the end of the day. The first and most obvious remedy is a good air conditioning unit. That unit, however, is only as good as the power on which it runs. 

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just as the right hookups are important to a functioning AC, so, too, is regular and diligent maintenance. Having a functioning AC unit in your RV during the summer months is crucial and that’s why it’s imperative to keep your AC unit in ship shape by performing regular cleaning and maintenance, to get ahead of any major issues before they start. Regularly changing any filter screens and giving the entire unit a once-over can go a long way.

But even with the AC on, taking certain considerations to stay cool can benefit the comfort level inside your rig. When it comes to staying cool in your RV, there are a handful of surprisingly simple tips that go a long way.

Trees offer shade from the intense summer sun at Jeckyl Island Campground in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Selecting your RV site with care helps to prevent it from getting hot in the first place. This sounds obvious, but it still needs to be stated: park in the shade if you can. The shade provided by large trees, hills, or even buildings can make a huge difference in the internal temperature of your RV. Sites facing the southwest should be avoided and make every effort to ensure that the refrigerator is in the shade. Avoiding direct sunlight and keeping your shades and blinds closed can make a huge difference. On a shady and cooler day, open the windows to let fresh air in and to make sure there’s enough ventilation in the RV. You may also consider upgrading to dual-pane windows which will also be beneficial for winter camping.

World’s Largest Roadrunner at Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New technologies are changing the way RVs are powered and cooled and while some of the technologies are still emerging, many RVers have added solar to their RVs roof and invested in the latest battery technology. Being truly self-contained is on the way as RVs get adequate electricity to run air conditioners, microwaves, and other devices in the RV. With the new battery technology coming, help is on the way.

If you’ve done your best to prevent your RV from heating up in the first place and turned on your AC to cool it down, then there are other simple things you can do to help KEEP your RV cool.

Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cover your roof vents with a reflective surface. Foam-based vent fillers that are tucked inside ceiling vents are available at most RV dealers. They help to reflect the sun’s rays off your RV. Their insulating abilities help your RV stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Don’t forget your shower skylight.

Extend your awning to help shade your RV (if it’s on the sunny side). This will not only shade the windows on that side of your RV but the walls too.

Put a bowl of ice in front of a table fan. The air passing over the ice water gets chilled and provides some relief. And if you don’t have any ice then a damp cloth placed over the fan will have a similar cooling effect.

Expect hot summers and warm winters in Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep the exterior door closed and try to minimize frequent openings. Opening the door repeatedly allows the hot outdoor air to enter your RV.

Avoid using the stove or oven. On hot days, plan to use your outdoor kitchen or campfire to cook meals or eat meals that don’t require cooking such as sandwiches and salads.

If your RV has incandescent light bulbs or halogen lights, turn them off as they emit heat. Consider installing LED lights which give you light (obviously) but they don’t release heat.

Summers are hot along the Lower Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep the windows closed during the daytime to prevent hot air from infiltrating your RV but open up the windows at night if you are camping in a place with cool evenings.

One of the most important ways to prevent heat-related illnesses is to drink plenty of water (most experts suggest eight glasses per day. Plain water is the best way to hydrate, no second-guessing necessary. But that can be hard to do when water tastes so…watery. Fortunately, it’s possible to get hydration from a variety of drinks but be careful that you’re not having too much of the ones that dehydrate.

Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consuming any kind of liquor removes water from your tissues, meaning you have to drink even more water to offset the effects. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the alcohol content, the more dehydrating your drink is.

Curious to see which beverages are the best for keeping enough fluid in you? The following six are hands-down your best hydrating choices: water, milk, fruit-infused water, fruit juice, watermelon, and sports drinks.

Chilie peppers in Hatch Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat spicy food. Capsaicin, a compound in chilies that gives them a kick, triggers a response in your nervous system that makes your face sweat and cools you down.

Symptoms of heat illness include dizziness/fainting, nausea/vomiting, rapid breathing and heartbeat, extreme thirst, and decreased urination with unusually dark urine. Age can make you more vulnerable to heat stress. Babies, young children, and seniors are less able to sweat and adjust to changes in temperature.

Staying cool at Lake Pleasant, Arizona

And finally, additional tips to stay safe in extreme heat include:

  • Avoid the direct sun as much as possible
  • Avoid strenuous activity and exercise
  • Avoid sunburn and wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on exposed skin and an SPF 30 lip balm
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, UV-blocking sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat (I prefer a Tilley)

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith