Are You Prepared for the Next Great Weather Event?

Educate yourself ahead of time. Every type of extreme weather event presents a unique challenge.

We know that weather can either make or break a camping trip. Sunshine and blue skies are what make RV trips a fun experience but we can’t always be that fortunate. Every once in a while a storm or unexpected temperatures sneak up on us and we must be fully prepared for when nature is having an off day. Extreme weather is more dangerous when in an RV than in a house. Here are some severe weather tips for RVers for when the going gets tough.

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most important thing to do is stay updated on the most current weather as much as possible to avoid surprises and prepare for any bad weather that may be on its way. Checking the weather before leaving on a road trip will provide some insight into what you may experience over the next several days.

As with any emergency, you want to be prepared ahead of time. Create an emergency plan for every situation and make sure your family knows the procedures. Write out the procedures and post them for future reference.

Seek shelter before the weather becomes extreme. No possession is worth more than you and your family. The worst thing to do is to wait around to determine the actions of others, wait for rescue, or wait until the last minute to know the severity of the weather event.

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prepare an emergency supply kit and place it in a convenient location that is easy to access. Consider including the following items: whistles, extra blankets, rain ponchos, non-perishable packaged/canned food, can opener, flashlights, a flare gun, a first aid kit, necessary prescription drugs, a compass, pet supplies/food, and bottled water.

Know the county you are located in and the surrounding counties. When you hear a weather alert message on your smartphone, radio, or television you’ll be able to determine where the storm is located and how quickly it will approach your current location.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Weather Service (NWS) provide information on current conditions, incoming storms, and emergency radio station lists. Have an NOAA battery-operated alert radio with an automatic alert mode, smartphone charger, and several flashlights in your RV? Top-rated mobile weather apps include WeatherBug, AccuWeather, and The Weather Channel.

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lightning and thunderstorms

According to NOAA, at any given moment in the day there are roughly 2,000 thunderstorms in progress across the globe. The United States experiences 100,000 thunderstorms every year with spring and summer afternoons seeing the highest frequency of events. Each storm can bring a suite of problems from hail to high winds but it’s lightning that is your number one concern.

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key points to keep in mind include:

  • Lightening kills more people annually than tornadoes or hurricanes
  • Taking shelter inside any building or vehicle is safer than being outside
  • Rain does not signify the beginning of a dangerous storm; thunder does
  • Anytime you hear thunder you’re at risk of a lightning strike; close your awning, store anything that can blow away, and get indoors as quickly as possible
  • Lightning strikes can damage the electrical power in your unit so it’s a good idea to use an Electric Management System (Progressive Industries or Surge Guard)

More on lightning/thunderstorms:

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flash floods

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.

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.

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key points to keep in mind include:

  • Do not attempt to cross any water higher than your ankles
  • As little as 6 inches of water flowing quickly can knock an adult down
  • Less than 2 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

More on flash floods: Flash Floods: Safety Tips for RVers

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dust storm

Dust storms (also called Haboobs) are unexpected, and unpredictable, and can sweep across the desert landscape at any time. Dust storms can reduce visibility to near zero in seconds resulting in deadly, multi-vehicle accidents on roadways. Dust storms can be miles long and thousands of feet high. 

Dust storms can occur anywhere in the United States but are most common in the Southwest. In Arizona, dust storms most frequently occur during monsoon season (June-September) but they can pop up at any time of the year. Drivers of high-profile recreation vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds.

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key points to keep in mind include:

  • DO NOT drive into or through a dust storm. PULL ASIDE. STAY ALIVE.
  • Do not stop in a travel lane or the emergency lane. Look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
  • Turn off all vehicle lights including your emergency flashers. You do not want other vehicles approaching from behind to use your lights as a guide possibly crashing into your parked vehicle.
  • Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
  • Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
  • PULL OFF! LIGHTS OFF! FOOT OFF!

More on dust storms: Dust Storms and Haboobs: Safety Tips for RVers

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tornados

Tornado Alley which stretches from mid-Texas north to North Dakota is plagued by a high frequency of tornadoes. But the disastrous storms aren’t just relegated to the plains. Tornadoes can happen anywhere. While tornadoes can form quickly—on average, NOAA releases a tornado warning in the potential impact area 15 minutes before the tornado hits—most are born from thunderstorms.

Key points to keep in mind include:

  • When you register at an RV campground, ask about the tornado and storm warning systems for the area
  • Never try to outrun a tornado in any type of vehicle
  • RVs do not provide good protection during a tornado
  • Be ready to go when a tornado WATCH is issued

More on tornadoes: Severe Weather: Tornado Safety Tips for RVers

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Extreme Heat

Extreme heat poses a threat to young children, older adults, and anyone who doesn’t take the right safety precautions before and during a heat wave. Heat-related incidents can be prevented with a few measures to ensure that both you and your family can safely get through the heat wave.

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. 

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key points to keep in mind include:

  • Limit your exposure to the sun
  • Stay hydrated by drinking at least 16 ounces of water every hour in the heat to replenish your body and prevent dehydration
  • Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing; a wide-brimmed hat, correct shoes, sunscreen, and wet bandanas to keep you cool while in the sun
  • 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)

More on extreme heat:

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hurricane

The devastating power of hurricanes can change your life, or even end it, in seconds. An RV is not a safe place to ride out a hurricane. Hurricanes pack enough punch to destroy everything in their wake and in those times it is best to be prepared for an immediate evacuation. Your RV can become your best friend and your ticket to safety if you take certain safety measures for yourself and your vehicle.

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key points to keep in mind include:

  • As soon as you know a hurricane is likely to come your way, load up your RV and head out before the Interstate becomes a virtual parking lot
  • Get as far from the coast and bodies of water as you can

More on hurricanes:

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildfires

Wildfires are highly unpredictable and can be deadly. With the severe heat, drought conditions, and wildfires burning across much of the western US states and Canada, those who are out adventuring need to be aware of wildfire conditions and what can be done to keep you and your family safe.

Over time, wildfires have become more prevalent. The changing climate makes droughts more frequent, generates more wind (which whips and spreads the flames) and leaves areas more susceptible to wildfires or the more dangerous and larger-scale mega-fires.

The peak month of wildfire season is August when areas become increasingly dry, hot, and more susceptible to wildfire. The states with the highest number of wildfires are California, Colorado, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Oregon.

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key points to keep in mind include:

  • Know the current wildfire conditions and fire restrictions for the area you are traveling
  • Choose a campsite that has more than one escape route
  • If you do see an unattended fire or out of control fire, contact the authorities by calling 911 or the Forest Service immediately
  • If you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately

More on wildfires: Camping Awareness: Wildfire Safety Tips That Could Save Your Life

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blizzards/Snowstorms

The best advice is to stay off the road, sit tight, and wait the weather out. Risking your life or the life of your family is not worth it for a road trip. Keep snow tires/chains, extra blankets, and extra food and water. Check to ensure you have a full tank of fuel (which also helps to add additional weight), and check for correct tire pressure (low tire pressure increases the chance of hydroplaning).

Be prepared for severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key points to keep in mind include:

  • Secure everything outside that has even the slightest potential to blow away
  • Keep a pair of thick gloves and a toque with you
  • Wearing multiple layers of light clothing will keep you warmer than one heavy layer

More on blizzards/snowstorms: Handling Cold Weather in Your RV

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)