How to Know a Tornado is Coming?

April, May, and June are the three most active months for tornadoes in the U.S. comprising more than half of the annual average of 1,333 twisters

Is a tornado coming? An RV is not a safe place to be during a tornado. Here are warning signs and how to stay safe in the face of a tornado.

Tornado season is here! How do you know if a tornado is coming? 

Here is my guide to all things tornado! I cover the tornado warning signs and how to stay safe during and after one occurs. 

What is a tornado? 

I know most of you know this but you’d be surprised how often this question is searched for in Google! I did say this guide is for all things tornado so here’s a quick definition.

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that reaches from a thunderstorm to the ground beneath it. Most tornadoes are thin but some can be greater than two miles wide. A tornado hits when warm air collides with cold air.

Is a tornado coming? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tornado season

Tornadoes can occur in the U.S. at any time throughout the year but there’s a distinct seasonal peak in tornadic activity and it starts in April. Long-term severe weather records show April, May, and June are the three most active months for tornadoes in the U.S.

Between 1991 and 2020, an average of 1,333 tornadoes were documented across the country each year of which more than half―54 percent―occurred between April and June.

Looking back on history, May is typically the most active month for tornadoes averaging 294 each year. That’s followed by April and June, each with an average of 212 tornadoes.

But remember―these are just averages based on a 30-year period and the weather doesn’t always follow what’s considered to be average.

Different weather patterns that set up each spring can cause the number of twisters between April and June to be significantly greater or much fewer than the 718 tornadoes that are typical during those three months.

Is a tornado coming? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where do most tornadoes occur? 

Tornado outbreaks during spring are most common when a southward dip in the jet stream punches into the Plains or Midwest and warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico surges northward out ahead of it at the surface.

A stronger jet stream can be fuel for extreme weather adding spin and energy needed in the atmosphere that will allow for thunderstorms to grow and intensify, potentially developing into supercell thunderstorms that could produce tornadoes if wind shear―the change in wind speed and/or direction with height―near the surface is particularly strong.

By the spring, the jet stream is migrating northward out of the South and setting up more frequently over the Plains and Midwest as it retreats toward the Canadian border for the summer.

That’s why the potential for tornadoes increases in Tornado Alley during the spring while the risk of tornadoes decreases for the southern U.S.

The term Tornado Alley has been given to the broad area where most tornadoes occur in the United States. The boundaries of Tornado Alley change depending on the criteria you use to define it. 

Generally, the region includes central Texas stretching horizontally through Oklahoma to northern Iowa. Then from central Kansas and Nebraska eastward to the west edge of Ohio. 

The U.S. tornado threat shifts from place to place during the year. The Southeast states are threatened during the cooler months. The southern and central Plains are most at risk in May and June. The early summer is a risky time for the northern Plains and Midwest areas. 

While tornadoes generally stay in these regions they have occurred in all fifty states!

Is a tornado coming? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tornado watch and tornado warning

Tornado watch

A Tornado Watch is issued by the meteorologists at the NOAA Storm Prediction Center. They watch the weather all day, every day across the U.S. for signs of severe weather. A watch can cover parts of or entire states. 

If you know there is a chance of severe weather, you can tune into NOAA Weather Radio to hear when an advance warning is issued. Many survival radios have the seven NOAA Weather Stations pre-programmed for your convenience. 

Tornado warning

A Tornado Warning is more urgent. It is issued by the NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office meteorologists watching a designated area nonstop. It means that radar or spotters have picked up on an actual tornado that is threatening people or property. 

A Tornado Warning means that you are at risk of danger and need to seek an immediate storm shelter. A warning can include parts of counties or several counties. When in an area issued with a Tornado Warning be sure to watch for the tornado warning signs. 

The National Weather Service cannot always predict a tornado nor give much warning. That is why it is a good idea to be able to spot the warning signs of tornadoes yourself. Advance planning can also mean the difference between life and death. 

Is a tornado coming? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are a few things to learn how to spot if you think a tornado is coming your way.

1. Wall cloud

You may see a wall cloud or the lowering of the base of the thunderstorm. Be especially cautious if the wall is rotating. 

2. Debris cloud

Even if a tornado is not visible look for a whirling dust or debris cloud near the ground which can indicate a tornado without a funnel. 

3. Large hail

Large hailwith the absence of rain can be an indicator of an impending tornado.

4. Heavy rain

When hail or heavy rain is followed by a quick, intense wind shift or a dead calm be watchful. This can indicate a thunderstorm as many times they are wrapped in precipitation and cannot be seen. 

5. Still weather

Many times before a tornado strikes, the wind speeds will die down producing a quiet, still air. Many report this as eerie silence. Others call it the “calm before the storm.”

6. Roaring noise

A tornado can produce a loud rumbling sound that is similar to the loud roar of a freight train. This can occur during the day or night. 

7. Funnel cloud

A rotating extension of the cloud base can signal the formation of a tornado.

8. Dark sky with greenish tint

The sky may appear dark and have a greenish hue.

9. Small and bright, blue-green flashes

At night, pay attention to small, bright, blue-green flashes near ground level. That could indicate power lines are being snapped by strong winds or a tornado. 

Is a tornado coming? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to do if you are caught in a tornado

Tip #1: When referring to tornado safety, your stationed RV is similar to a mobile home. It’s even less safe. If you are camping somewhere and find yourself at risk of a tornado get out if possible. 

Tip #2: While you do not want to be exposed outdoors you do want to try and find the safest place possible. The best places are underground shelters or sturdy, permanent buildings. 

Tip #3: If you are driving your RV or other vehicle and get caught near a tornado, it can also be dangerous. Your best-case scenario is to try and drive out of the tornado’s path. To do this, drive at a right angle to the tornado if at all possible. 

Tip #4: If you get caught in high winds or hit with flying debris, park the vehicle as quickly and safely as possible. Lower your head below the windows. Cover your head and hands with a blanket or coat. 

Tip #5: If you spot an area lower than the roadway, leave your vehicle and lie down in that area. Cover your head with your hands. 

Tip #6: If you are in the outdoors, try and locate some sort of storm shelter in a sturdy building. If that is not possible, lie down at the lowest level you can find.

Tip #7: Try to avoid trees and vehicles and cover your head with your arms. 

Tip #8: Invest in a Survival Radio before you leave on your next road trip whether heading toward Tornado Alley or not.

Tip #9: For more helpful information, refer to the NOAA’s Tornado Safety Guide.

Is a tornado coming? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to do after

Once the tornado passes, assess the damage. Look and smell for a gas leak and move away if needed. 

If you can stay put and wait for medical personnel or law enforcement. Help any injured people that you can. 

If you haven’t already, turn on your radio and tune in to NOAA weather radio or local radio station. 

If you must drive out of the area, be careful to watch for any downed power lines. 

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

35 Little Things to Remember to Pack for Your RV Road Trip

Here’s a list of little things to remember that make a big difference on the road…

Packing for an RV road trip can be both exciting and overwhelming. With limited space, it’s important to prioritize what items to bring along. And while it’s easy to focus on the big-ticket items, it’s the small things that can often make the biggest difference.

One such example is a tool kit. It may not be a glamorous item but having the right tools on board can make all the difference in a pinch. Whether it’s a loose screw or a minor repair having a tool kit can save you time and money by allowing you to quickly fix the issue without needing to visit a repair shop.

Another important item to consider is a water filter. While most RVs come equipped with a water filtration system, it’s always a good idea to have a spare water filter or even a backup. A portable water filter can ensure that you have access to clean, safe drinking water no matter where you are on your journey.

In summary, it’s important not to overlook the small things when packing for an RV road trip. A tool kit, water filter, and first aid kit can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey.

There are at least 35 little things that can make a big difference in your next RV trip!

Water system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

35 Little Things to Remember Before You Hit the Road

I have written in the past about 16 must-have RV trip accessories. However, I am expanding on that post to include other small things.

Just because something is small does not mean it is not important. In order to remember all the things you need for your next camping excursion, you may want to keep a checklist. 

The following are important items that you can add to your list!

1. Basic tool box

It is always a good idea to have a tool kit on hand in your RV. You never know when you might need a screwdriver or wrench or to hit something with a hammer! Just about anything in your RV that can snap, crack, rip loose, tear, bend, leak, spark, or fall off will do exactly that at the most inconvenient time. Something will need to be tightened, loosened, pounded flat, pried, or cut. To help you deal with everyday problems and annoyances, maintain a well-equipped tool box in the RV (always store on curb side). This is definitely one of those things you’ll kick yourself for not having if you end up needing it. 

Progressive Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Electric Management System

Protect your RV from electrical threats with an electric management system sometimes referred to as a surge protector. That way a power surge or low and high voltage issues will not cause harm to your rig’s electrical system. 

There are four electrical issues an RVer can encounter while traveling: surges, miswired pedestals, high/low voltage, and wiring issues inside the RV. We’ve had a power surge, situations where pedestals were miswired, and both high and low voltage situations. Fortunately, our Progressive Electric Management System has protected us from all of these situations.

Check out the units available from Progressive Electric Management Systems or Surge Guard. Both portable units and hardwired units are available.

Water pressure regulator © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Water pressure regulator

You do not want your RV’s water system to get damaged or spring a leak! That is why you need a quality water pressure regulator for your RV. It’s an $8 part that will save your plumbing system.

Water filter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Water filter

Having an RV water filter ensures that you have clean, safe drinking water. A water filtration system cleans out the gross gunk in many campground water hookup systems. 

5. Foldable rake

This little item can be very useful. You never know what the ground cover will be like when camping. Use a rake to even it out. You can also use a foldable rake to put out a fire, clear out a sitting area, or make your RV more level. A foldable shovel is also useful to carry onboard.

6. Portable air compressor

Be prepared. The last thing you want is to be stranded somewhere with low air or a flat tire especially if you are far away from services! A portable air compressor can pump up your tires if needed to get you out of a jam. It can also help keep your tires properly inflated to ensure they have a longer life. 

A nifty trick is to use your air compressor to dust off picnic tables, BBQs, and other campground fixtures.

7. First aid kit

A first aid kit readily available in an emergency isn’t just a good idea—it’s a necessity for every RVer. A well-stocked first-aid kit and manual can help you respond effectively to common injuries and emergencies. You can purchase first aid kits and refills at the Red Cross store, most drugstores, online, or assemble your own.

Contents of a first-aid kit should include adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic solution or towelettes, bandages, calamine lotion, cotton balls and cotton-tipped swabs, gauze pads and roller gauze in assorted sizes, first aid manual, petroleum jelly or other lubricant, safety pins in assorted sizes, scissors and tweezers, and sterile eyewash.

8. Road atlas: Digital and non-digital

I always recommend keeping a hardcopy road atlas in your RV in case your GPS fails. However, most GPS systems and apps allow you to look up routes ahead of time and download them to your phone. That way, you can still access them even when you do not have cell service. 

9. LED flashlights

Flashlights are a must-have on any road trip. 

10. Long jumper cables

Do not risk being stranded with a dead battery and no jumper cables. Or ones that are too short to reach your RV’s engine. 

Another thing to consider is a jumper starter that can jump-start a rig without needing another vehicle. This may be a good idea for you boondockers out there!

So, make sure to include jumper cables in your Emergency Roadside Kit.

11. Emergency radio

An emergency radio can help you stay in touch with the NOAA Emergency Radio Station in the event of a natural disaster or emergency. They can help you identify fire danger or recovery information for other natural disasters. All in all, it can help keep you and your family safe. 

12. Folding step stool

Whether you need to fix your awning or clean up a spill in a high cabinet, a step stool saves the day. The best part about this stool is that it folds up flat for easy storage. It can easily be stored in an outdoor storage hatch or utility closet inside. It can even be tucked away under a couch or bed if they are elevated above the floor.

Disposable vinyl gloves © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Disposable vinyl gloves

Emptying the RV black water tank is probably the most common reason to have disposable vinyl gloves around. But, they can also be used for a variety of other things like cleaning and handling food. Yes, you should absolutely use disposable gloves for sewer tasks.

14. Assorted fuses

Vehicle fuses can blow at any time so it’s a good idea to keep extras around. We like to travel in a variety of sizes. But remember—something caused it to blow in the first place. Address the original issue as soon as you can. 

15. Duct tape

You probably already know that duct tape can come in very handy around the home. It is no different when you are in your RV! As one person said, “If it moves and it shouldn’t, use duct tape.” 

Use it to temporarily repair frayed wires, holes or leaks, or hang up holiday decorations. The uses are endless with good ol’ duct tape!

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Space heater

Space heaters are great for warming up an RV. Even though they are small, they are mighty. 

A small electric space heater can quickly warm your RV, keeping you toasty in chilly camping conditions. They are simple to use since all you need is a plug. 

17. Fan

Just like a heater, having a camping fan to keep cool can be make camping that much more enjoyable. Fans are great for cooling you when it is not hot enough to warrant using the air conditioner. 

18. Heavy duty RV dogbone electrical adapters

Every RVer needs to carry a few power adapters often referred to as dogbones to make sure that they can connect to whatever power is available to them. These power adapters will have a smaller, lower amperage plug (male blades) on one end and a larger/higher-amperage receptacle (female terminals). Look for UL-listed versions of these adapters preferably with rigid grab handles. They do not change the power output.

Recommended electric adapters include:

  • 50-amp RV plugged into 30-amp source
  • 30-amp RV plugged into 15-amp source

19. Gorilla tape 

Gorilla Tape is a brand of adhesive tape sold by the makers of Gorilla Glue and available in several sizes and colors including camouflage, white, and clear. Gorilla Tape can solve many problems while on the road—and you can do most anything with this stuff. RVers have used it to temporarily repair a sewer hose, keep a driver’s side window from continually falling, and even affix the coffee maker to the counter so that it doesn’t move during travel.

20. Rain gear

Another small thing to keep on hand is rain gear. That way, you can be prepared for any unforeseen downfalls. 

Keep a poncho and rain boots in a closet for rainy days. Here me out on this one… Another great tip is to purchase plastic disposable shower caps to wear over your socks inside your shoes. They can help keep your feet from getting soaked!

Comfortable pillow and bedding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Comfortable pillow and bedding

Comfort is key to a successful camping trip and that includes a super comfortable pillow. Instead of just grabbing a spare pillow from your house, invest in a good one specifically for your RV.

22. Fly swatter

A fly swatter makes a great addition to your RV. You can quickly rid your space of annoying flying insects. 

23. Mosquito and bug repellent

One downside of being in nature is being around unwanted bugs. While many folks love all of nature’s creatures, most do not want mosquitos and flies bugging them. There are products on the market that will combat pesky bug on your next road trip. You’ll be ready to battle the little buggers on your next camping trip with one of the following deterrants: Thermacell Patio Shield, Yaya Tick Ban, Buzz Away, OFF! Deep Woods Bug Spray, and Citronella candels.

24. Silverware

This one might seem funny to some folks! It certainly won’t be amusing if you forget to pack silverware on your next RV trip.

Stabilizer jack pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Stabilizers

One small item you do not want to go without is stabilizers for your rig! These small pads can help keep your rig level, making your camping experience much more enjoyable. 

Prevent hydraulic or electric jacks from sinking into the ground by using RV stabilizer jack pads. Available in sets of four they are solidly constructed of durable polypropylene with UV inhibitors.

26. Chairs

Sitting back and relaxing on a trip is one of the main reasons I travel! Camping chairs are an absolute must.

27. Spare keys/hidden keys

It’s a VERY GOOD IDEA to make an extra copy of your key and hide it on the outside of your rig using a magnetic hide-a-key. Of course, make sure you hide it in a clever place that won’t easily be discovered by no-do-gooders. I also recommend leaving a spare with a family member that can ship it to you, just in case.

28. Zip ties

Zip ties are convenient, especially while camping. Zip ties are handy to tie up a cord or attach something inside your rig. 

29. Matches or lighter

Nothing is worse than trying to light your stove only to realize you do not have matches or a lighter. Even if you just want some ambiance by lighting a candle, you do not want to learn too late that you cannot burn it. 

30. Paper towels

Camping is messy, and paper towels can help keep you and your rig tidier. Paper towels help clean up spills at home and in your RV. They also make great napkins for those messy BBQ nights when camping. 

31. Can opener

You’d be surprised by how many people forget to pack a can opener! It’s not something you really think about until you stare dumbly at a can and wonder how the heck you will open it.

32. Pot holders

Same as can openers, people often overlook packing pot holders. And, trust me, a double-upped towel doesn’t work as well. Especially if you’re using cast iron! Do your hands a favor, and don’t forget pot holders!

33. Large trash bags

Inside our rig, we use small trash bags or grocery store bags to line trash cans. The 13-gallon trash bags do not always cut it, so we also pick up the large black trash bags from Costco and bring a handful along. And having large trash bags for all the outside debris is really useful. 

You’ll need a corkscrew for most wines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

34. Corkscrew

We all know how catastrophic forgetting a corkscrew can be to some people’s camping trip. Settling in for the evening with a nice glass of wine is a common RVer indulgence. But what do you do if you forget a corkscrew?

35. Dog poop bags

Last, but not least, bring along some dog poop bags. That is, if you travel with a dog, of course.

In addition, these little bags can be handy for other items too. Put raw meat or strong-smelling foods in them before throwing the food in your trash. It can help keep your trash fresher for longer!

Worth Pondering…

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

—Benjamin Franklin

Lightning and Thunderstorms: Safety Tips for RVers

If you can hear thunder, lightning is not far away

We don’t usually plan our RV trips around thunderstorms or other severe weather. If we knew we’d be spending our vacations taking cover, most likely we’d reschedule our trips. But storms occur throughout the year in just about every place in the world, so they are a fact we simply have to accept. And accepting the reality of storms should prompt us to prepare for how storms can affect us when we’re traveling in our RVs.

The most basic preparation is an emergency preparedness kit that includes a first aid kit. Make sure you check it regularly to ensure that any used supplies have been replaced and that nothing has passed its expiration date.

Be alert to threatening weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat lightning

The term heat lightning is commonly used to describe lightning from a distant thunderstorm just too far away to see the actual cloud-to-ground flash or to hear the accompanying thunder. While many people incorrectly think that heat lightning is a specific type of lightning, it is simply the light produced by a distant thunderstorm.

An old term to describe summertime storms! After all, all lightning is “hot”—the typical bolt of lightning has a temperature of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Ouch!

Flash flood in the Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thunderstorm facts

The definition of a severe thunderstorm is one producing hail one inch in diameter (size of a quarter) or winds of 58 mph or more.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), “Each year across America there are on average 10,000 thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, 1,000 tornadoes, and six named hurricanes.” The NWS pointed out that weather disasters lead to about 500 deaths annually.

Every thunderstorm produces lightning.

Thunderstorms can produce high winds that can damage property.

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

Park led evacuation following a flash flood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thunderstorms can cause flash flooding.

Lightning kills more people annually than tornadoes or hurricanes.

A thunderstorm WATCH means that conditions are right for a thunderstorm to develop in the watch area. Be ready to take cover or evacuate.

A thunderstorm WARNING means that a severe thunderstorm has been reported or detected on radar threatening danger to property or life. Take cover or evacuate if there is time and a safe escape route.

Cleanup following a flash flood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you hear it—clear it

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), if you can hear thunder, the storm is close enough that lightning could strike your location at any moment! NWS strongly urges that “If you hear it—clear it!”

All RVers need to remember the Flash to Bang or 30/30 Lightning Rule. If a thunderstorm develops, count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the bang of the thunder to estimate the distance between you and the lightning strike. Because sound travels at about one mile in five seconds, you can determine how far away the lightning is by using this ‘flash-to-bang’ method.

It’s recommended you seek shelter if the time between the lightning flash and the sound of thunder is 30 seconds or less, or six miles away. Once you’re an inside shelter, you should not resume activities until 30 minutes after the last audible thunder.

Be alert to threatening weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay informed with local weather forecasts

Unless you’ve RVing in the wilderness, there will be a way to monitor the weather and learn about impending thunderstorms. Cell phones, Internet weather reports, NOAA radios, TV news, weather stations, and local warning systems are some of the ways to be aware of weather threats.

If you’re staying at an RV Park the manager may alert park guests when severe weather is approaching. But it’s advisable to enquire about storm or tornado shelters and local warning systems when registering at the campground.

More on severe weather: Tornado Safety Tips for RVers

NOAA’s NWS, WeatherBug, Weather.com, and other online weather sites can give you a three- to ten-day forecast.

Camping under trees can be hazardous in severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check your RV and site for safety

Most RVers like shady sites on hot summer days. But shade usually comes from trees. Check the trees and shrubs at your site for sturdy branches or ones that might break under high wind conditions. Large branches can cause severe damage to your RV and toad/tow vehicle if not injuries to people. If you notice weak branches ask your park owner to trim them.

>>Check your site for chairs, tables, toys, BBQs, and other objects that can become projectiles in high winds. Bring them inside, tie them down, or secure them in some other way.

Bring your pets inside during inclement weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>>Bring your animals inside during threatening weather.

>>Get your emergency preparedness kit out.

>>Make sure your outside storage doors are closed and locked.

>>Retract any awnings and ensure they’re securely fastened.

>>Close and latch your windows.

>>If you are going to evacuate, leave early, and make sure you are not heading into the storm.

Rockport-Fulton (Texas) following major hurricane destruction © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take cover before the storm arrives

The safest place to locate during a thunderstorm—if you choose not to evacuate­—is in the basement of a sturdy building. This area will give you the greatest protection from lightning, winds, tornados, and flying objects. The next safest area is an inside room with no windows and plenty of walls between you and the storm.

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

Like mobile homes, RVs can be blown over in high winds. They’re not the safest place to be. But if you have no alternative, stay in a hallway away from windows and cabinets that can fly open turning their contents into projectiles.

Hurricane damage on the Texas Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you see lightning or hear thunder, stay inside.

Stay inside for about 30 minutes after you hear the last thunderclap.

Unplug electronics like TVs, DVDs, computers, coffee pots, and so forth. Use cell phones and battery-powered devices. A battery-powered NOAA radio would be very useful at a time like this.

Cleaning up following a flash flood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other Dangers

Both during and after a severe thunderstorm flooding may be a problem. If you are in a low area, move to higher ground. Some RV parks have a flood gauge showing five or six feet above their entry driveway.

If you are traveling and come across a flooded roadway, don’t try to drive through it. You could get washed away if the water is moving rapidly. Or, if there are downed power lines in that water, you could be electrocuted.

Park directed evacuation following a flash flood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lightning strikes can split trees, breaking large branches off, and start wildfires.

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

If someone has been struck by lightning, call 911 and start CPR immediately. The American Heart Association has a “learn CPR in one minute eight seconds” course that teaches CPR well enough that anyone can deliver effective CPR in such an emergency.

Worth Pondering…

If I accept the sunshine and warmth, then I must also accept the thunder and lightning.

—Khalil Gibran

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

HURRICANE 2021 SURVIVAL GUIDE: STAYING SAFE IN YOUR RV

Storm season is here! Are You Ready?

Believe it or not, June is already winding down. And while I’m sure there’s plenty of excitement left in the month (especially with hurricane season officially underway), now’s a great time to reflect on what an amazing month we’re having. As you know, it’s the time of year when spring really starts to look like summer.

It always throws people off when it’s the eve of the Atlantic hurricane season. No, not during hurricane season—not unless a hurricane comes within 1,000 miles, anyway!

Fortunately this was not a major storm approaching Capitol City RV Park in Montgomery, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I thought it might be nice to start off with some good news. Of course, that statement is a “no brainer” since the 2020 Hurricane Season was the most active in modern times (since 1851). There were 30 named storms, 14 hurricanes, and seven major hurricanes. Boom! Actually, the past decade has been off the charts in terms of activity. There have been on average 17 named storms each year making the past decade the busiest on record. It has also been the busiest 30 years on record as well with two years, 2020 and 2005, both having record seasons. Those two seasons combined for nearly 60 named storms and 14 major hurricanes. For perspective, there have been decades when the total number of storms was under 90. During the 1910s-1920s there were only 60 named storms over a 10-year period. As recently as 1992, there were only 91 storms over a 10-year period.

Rokport-Fulton, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, the bad news! Despite no La Niña, this will still be an active hurricane season. It just won’t be a super season!

With hurricane season upon us, it’s important to know the ins and outs of RV safety—when to ride out a tropical storm and when it’s time to head out of Dodge to a safer locale. Motorhomes and travel trailers are ideal ‘survival’ vehicles during natural disasters. When faced with a possible hurricane, your recreational vehicle can transport you, your loved ones, and your home to a safer place.

Goose Island State Park, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s what you need to know

Hurricane season is no joke. The devastating power of these twisting tropical storms is humbling—and it can change your life, or even end it, in a second. That’s why folks who live near the coastal areas most vulnerable to hurricanes carefully track each storm over the course of the season, even the small ones. It might just end up being a tropical depression that spins off harmlessly into the ocean but you just can’t be too careful when dealing with nature’s fury.

Goose Island State Park, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, that goes double, if not triple, for those of us who live or travel in a recreational vehicle. We’ll cut right to the chase: no matter what kind of rig you call home, an RV is not a safe place to ride out a hurricane. In fact, even tropical storms and smaller thunderstorms can cause serious and life-threatening damage to your home-on-wheels.

Nature’s fury has a knack of catching you off-guard; hurricanes are no exceptions. Hurricanes pack enough punch to destroy everything in their wake and in those times it is best to be prepared for an immediate evacuation. Tropical storms and hurricanes are unpredictable to a large extent and must not be treated lightly. Your RV can become your best friend and your ticket to safety if you take certain safety measures for yourself and your vehicle.

Rokport-Fulton, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you’re traveling by RV, the weather takes on a whole new level of importance. Motorhomes and travel trailers are not safe places to take shelter during extreme weather events which means it’s critical to stay up to date and alert about changing weather patterns and potentially severe weather warnings in your area. It’s not melodramatic to say that your life and the lives of your family could hang in the balance.

The Big Tree at Goose Island State Park, Texas stood firm during Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017). Your RV would not be this fortunate. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fortunately, the same feature that makes RVs an unsafe place to weather a storm makes it relatively easy to avoid bad weather in the first place: they’re on wheels! Evacuation is the key to surviving a hurricane in an RV. It may actually take days to reach a safe destination. In addition, the path of the storm may change requiring you to change directions.

Don’t wait too long and get stuck in heavy traffic with last-minute, mandatory evacuees. 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.

Rokport-Fulton, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prepare an emergency kit by stocking your RV with items such as water, non-perishable foods, and prescription medications. Before the storm, fill your vehicle with fuel and check the windshield wipers and tires. Place your RV and house insurance documents, vehicle registration, title, passport, and other important documents in a waterproof bag and keep them with you.

Keep handy items such as tarps, flashlights and extra batteries, candles and extra lighters or waterproof matches, disposable garbage bags, NOAA Weather Radio, first aid kit, and a toolkit ready at all times.

Goose Island State Park, Texas following Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 hurricane (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to News4Jax Insider, your first aid kit should include sterile adhesive bandages, sterile gauze pads, hypoallergenic adhesive tape, triangular bandages (3), sterile roller bandages, antibiotic ointment, scissors, tweezers, needle, moistened towelettes, antiseptic, thermometer, tongue blades (2), a tube of petroleum jelly or another lubricant, assorted sizes of safety pins, cleansing agent/soap, latex gloves (2 pairs), sunscreen, bug repellent, Tylenol or other pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacid, syrup of Ipecac (use to induce vomiting if advised by the Poison Control Center) and laxatives, activated charcoal (if advised by the Poison Control Center), bottled water and additional sterilizing liquids (alcohol and acetone).

Stay safe out there! Remember, run from the water and hide from the wind.

Worth Pondering…

In reality, you don’t ever change the hurricane. You just learn how to stay out of its path.     

—Jodi Picoult