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

23 Pros and Cons of the RV Lifestyle in 2024

Welcome to my article about the pros and cons of the RV lifestyle! If you’re considering a life on the road or are just curious about the benefits of RV living, you’re in the right place.

I’ve compiled a list of 23 reasons why the RV lifestyle can be an amazing experience and 23 reasons it can be challenging.

This is the time of year people are making plans and becoming an RV nomad is an option many are exploring whether for full-time RV living, snowbird lifestyle, or as weekend warriors and vacation escapes whenever they can get away.

But, like everything in life, there are pros and cons to consider.

From increased freedom and flexibility to the opportunity to spend more time in nature there are so many advantages to living in an RV.

And there are lots of challenges or cons that are involved, too.

So while for many of us, it can be an exciting and fulfilling experience, it’s important to be aware of the RV living challenges you may face along the way.

In this article, I’ll explore 23 reasons why the RV lifestyle may be for you and 23 reasons why it might not!

Let’s start with the positive reasons to embrace the RV lifestyle.

Lower Colorado Potash Scenic Byway near Moab, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23 RV lifestyle pros

From increased freedom and flexibility to the opportunity to spend more time in nature, there are so many advantages to living in an RV that it’s hard to list just 23. Dania and I have been living the RV snowbird lifestyle for 25+ years and on every new adventure we find a new benefit.

We can confidently say from experience that whether you’re a digital nomad looking to work remotely, a senior seeking new adventures, or a family looking to bond and create lasting memories, the RV lifestyle has something to offer for everyone.

So read on to learn more about the numerous benefits of this unique and exciting way of life.

Freedom to travel and explore new places at your own pace has to be the very top benefit of the RV lifestyle on almost everyone’s list. Wanderlust lovers find a unique fulfillment in this lifestyle.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Ability to live a minimalist lifestyle and declutter (or sell) your home. Life today can be complicated. The RV lifestyle forces you to do with less—and that can be a good thing.

2. An opportunity to meet new people and make lasting friendships. If you are a warm and friendly person you will come into contact with so many new people with different backgrounds that your life will be greatly enriched.

3. Ability to spend more time outdoors and in nature. In an RV, you can live right in the middle of God’s awesome creation.

4. Flexibility to work remotely or take extended vacations. Thanks to technology with many jobs you can now work from anywhere your RV is parked. All you need is good Internet and technology keeps improving those connection speeds.

5. Potential to save money on housing and other expenses (notice I said potential). If you budget wisely and can do some basic maintenance and repairs yourself and like to camp off the grid, you can indeed save money.

6. Increased family bonding and quality time spent together.

7. Ability to travel with pets and have them with you at all times.

8. Potential to save money on transportation costs by driving your home with you. Fuel prices have been on a roller coaster lately but for those who work from home, there’s no commute time because your home is your RV.

8. Ability to enjoy a variety of different destinations and climates in one trip. Don’t like the weather? Hitch up and head to somewhere where it’s nice.

9. Opportunity to try out different locations and see where you might want to settle down. Many use an RV to explore the country to find the perfect spot where they can put down permanent roots someday.

Daytona Beach, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Increased sense of adventure and spontaneity in your daily life—–trust me on this, it’s NEVER boring!

11. Ability to have all your belongings with you at all times rather than relying on storage or shipping. You learn to minimize. That is very freeing.

12. Greater sense of control over your living environment and surroundings. Home is where you park it. That’s the ultimate in freedom.

13. Ability to customize and personalize your RV to fit your needs and preferences. It’s so much easier to redecorate an RV than a house or apartment.

14. Opportunity to learn new skills such as basic vehicle maintenance and camping techniques. RV owners tend to be much more self-reliant than non-RVers.

15. Potential to reduce your environmental impact by using a smaller, more efficient living space.  We have a small house but a big yard.

16. Increased physical activity and outdoor recreation opportunities. RVers tend to be fitter and healthier than non-RVers because they do much more.

17. Ability to be self-sufficient and live off the grid if desired. Thanks to solar power and things like lithium batteries, it’s possible to actually be energy independent in an RV.

18. Potential to save money on entertainment by dining out by cooking and enjoying meals in your RV. Most serious RVers prefer cooking their own meals because they usually are camped well out of town.

19. Increased appreciation for the simple things in life. There’s truth in the saying, “Less is more.”

20. Ability to disconnect from the distractions and stresses of daily life and focus on what matters most—time with loved ones, being connected to nature, slowing down, and de-stressing.

21. Opportunity to create lifelong memories and experiences with your loved ones.

22. Opportunity to experience regional culture and cuisine. You can do a deep-dive into any given region. Find all the hidden treasures and sites often overlooked by vacationers. The slower pace is one of the most advantageous aspects of RV living.

23. Spend money on experiences, not things. The final advantage of living in an RV is that you can spend your money on experiences rather than on things. You will be making memories every day that will last a lifetime.

Bernheim Forest south of Louisville, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23 RV lifestyle cons

While the RV lifestyle can certainly be an exciting and fulfilling experience, it’s important to be aware of the RV living challenges that you may face along the way. From limited space and amenities to maintenance and budgeting many aspects of the RV lifestyle can be challenging to navigate.

This was a hard list to compile. Almost all of these RV lifestyle cons can be overcome. However some personality types don’t do well with new challenges and problems. There is a learning curve to the RV lifestyle.

So in this section, I’ll explore 23 common RV living challenges that people may encounter while living in an RV. I’ll also suggest how you can overcome them.

Whether you’re a seasoned RV enthusiast or a newcomer to the lifestyle these challenges are worth considering before hitting the road.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Limited space. RVs can be cramped and may not have as much storage or living space as a traditional home.

2. Hooking up utilities. Setting up and connecting utilities including water, electricity, and sewer can be challenging and time-consuming. Then there’s the unpleasant task of dumping the black tank.

3. Maintenance. RVs require regular maintenance such as checking and replacing fluids, cleaning and inspecting the exterior and interior, and performing routine upkeep. Things will break. When you are driving down the road, your RV is going through the equivalent of a 4.0 earthquake!

4. Driving and maneuvering. Operating an RV is more challenging than driving a car especially when it comes to parking, backing up, and navigating tight spaces. In heavy traffic or on congested city streets you will need to be extra alert and careful.

5. Weather and road conditions. RVs can be affected by adverse weather conditions and rough roads which can make traveling more difficult.

6. Finding campsites. It can be difficult to find campsites or RV parks that are suitable and available, especially during peak travel seasons.

7. Limited privacy. RVs often have thin walls and limited privacy which can be challenging for people who value their personal space. In campgrounds, your neighbors may be parked just 10 feet away!

8. Limited amenities. Some RV parks and campsites can be somewhat rundown and may not have all the amenities that a person is used to such as laundry facilities, dog runs, level spots, and reliable Wi-Fi.

9. Limited resources. Most RVs do not have the same resources as a traditional home such as a full-size fridge or freezer, an oven, or a dishwasher. Closet and storage space can be limited.

Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Budgeting. The cost of purchasing, insuring, and maintaining an RV as well as paying for campsites and fuel can be expensive and requires careful budgeting. That old saying Count the cost before embarking on such a change in life is very true regarding finance.

11. Limited access to certain areas. Some roads and areas may be inaccessible to RVs due to their size or weight restrictions. You will want to carefully plan routes to be sure overpass and bridge clearances on secondary roads will safely let your RV pass beneath.

12. Limited socialization. The RV lifestyle can be isolating at times as people may not have the same opportunities to socialize or participate in community activities as they would in a traditional neighborhood. Each time you move camp and set up somewhere else you will have to adjust to a new community. If you are socially awkward, this can be a challenge.

13. Separation from family and friends.The RV lifestyle may involve spending long periods of time away from family and friends which can be challenging for people who value close relationships. You will need to find new ways to stay in touch like FaceTime or Zoom. You will want to plan for regular trips back home for in-person visits.

14. Limited access to healthcare. Some areas may not have adequate healthcare facilities or services which can be challenging for people who require regular medical care. Telemedicine for travelers can help a lot.

15. Limited internet and phone service. Some remote areas may not have reliable internet or phone service which can be a challenge for people who need to stay connected for work or personal reasons.

16. Limited access to groceries and other supplies. It can be difficult to find groceries and other supplies in some areas especially if you are traveling to remote or rural locations.

17. Limited access to entertainment. Depending on where you are traveling you may have limited access to entertainment options such as movie theaters, concerts, or sporting events.

18. Dealing with breakdowns and emergencies, RVs can and will break down and you will experience the same emergencies and other issues that happen in everyday life while you are on the road. Dealing with them in unfamiliar new locations can be stressful and costly.

19. Escalating fuel costs. This has become a major concern and a dealbreaker in recent months for many new fulltime RVers especially those on a fixed income.

20. Limited pet-friendly options. It can sometimes be difficult to find pet-friendly RV parks or campsites which can be a challenge for people who travel with pets.

21. Limited accessibility. Some RVs may not be accessible for people with disabilities or chronic medical conditions as they may not have features such as ramps or handrails.

22. Limited vehicle options. RVs come in various sizes and styles but some people may have difficulty finding an RV that meets their needs or preference.

23. Adjusting to a different way of life. The RV lifestyle is a significant change from living in a traditional home and it may take some time for people to adjust to a different way of living. This can be challenging for some people who are used to a certain routine or way of life.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Central Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There you have it—23 pros and 23 cons of the RV lifestyle!

Consider using these two lists as a checklist. Which of these is more important to you? Sort through them and find your own way of managing them.

Which of these would you rather spend $200 on?

Going on an all-day whale watching trip which includes sightings of multiple bears and cubs searching for eels along the beach, sightings of numerous humpback whales and porpoises, dozens of different species of sea birds, and the star of the show, the orcas, which are everywhere. All the while the captain is narrating a captivating story of the wildlife and the native cultures that are intrinsically woven around that wildlife. Oh yeah, and the trip includes lunch. 

OR 

Buying a new table lamp or wall hanging depicting sea life!

Where to next?

Explore Arizona with my RV adventure guide:

Worth Pondering…

If you wait for the perfect moment when all is safe and assured, it may never arrive. Mountains will not be climbed, races won, or lasting happiness achieved.

—Maurice Chevalier

As Hurricane Season Ramps Up It Is Never Too Early to Prepare

These tips will help you steer clear of danger in storm-prone areas

Hurricane season stretches from June 1 through November 30 each year. This encompasses both the peak summer travel season and popular fall holidays.

At least one hurricane makes landfall in the U.S. nearly every year bringing wind speeds of more than 160 mph along with trillions of gallons of rain. Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolinas, and other Atlantic and Gulf Coast states are generally the most impacted. If your travel plans include traveling to—or through—locales that are vulnerable to extreme weather you need to take extra steps to ensure you’re protected.

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

The Atlantic hurricane season is on a lot of people’s minds as we enter the final weeks of August. Experts at the National Hurricane Center initially predicted near-normal Atlantic hurricane activity at the beginning of the season but revised their forecast on August 10. They are now calling for a 60 percent chance of an above-average season, up from 30 percent.  

Earlier in the season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast 12 to 17 named storms. Now, the agency projects 14 to 21 storms including tropical storms and hurricanes. About half of those are expected to be full-blown hurricanes. Not all storms are expected to make landfall.

While the El Niño we’re experiencing would often suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin, it’s expected the warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures will allow more storms to develop.

On average, the greatest tropical activity in the Atlantic occurs between mid-August and mid-October with the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season in less than three weeks on September 10. 

Rockport, Texas following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hurricanes, the gift of notice

Unlike other natural disasters across the world—earthquakes, tornados, flash floods, and wildfires—hurricanes come with the built-in gift of advance notice. 

It’s quite rare for one to sneak up on you without a couple of days (or more) notice. And just because it’s hurricane season and you’re in the zone (which stretches all along the Gulf of Mexico coast and up the eastern seaboard) doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be impacted by a major storm. 

Paying attention to tropical storm forecasts by visiting the National Hurricane CenterTropical Tidbits, and Windy can give you plenty of time to execute your hurricane plan. 

(If you’re choosing to be in a hurricane area, you do have a hurricane plan, right?) 

Fulton, Texas following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs have wheels—use them!

I’ve heard the argument that an RV is designed to encounter sustained 60-80 mile-per-hour winds. After all, that’s what they undergo when we drive them down the interstate. So, some RVers just plan to stay put through the smaller storms. 

But a broadside 130 mph gust can flip an RV right over. 

RVs also aren’t built for flying debris that high winds can toss around. Tree branches, heck—whole trees, lawn furniture, pieces of fences, and more can all become deadly projectiles in those sorts of winds—and severely damage traditional homes, never mind our flimsy RVs. 

And remember, hurricanes aren’t just wind events. They can spawn severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, storm surges, and massive flooding rains. 

The preferred hurricane plan for an RV is to do what they do best—turn on the ignition and drive away! Our homes have wheels. USE THEM. RVs are perfect bug-out vehicles being self-contained wherever we land. 

Know the area you are in and what the actual risks are. Coastal areas are prone to more severe impacts and will often have mandatory evacuations ordered once warnings go up.  

Some RV Parks or campgrounds may close down and kick you out as part of their storm preps. 

You really might not have a choice to stay. 

If you’re more inland, you may be okay or just need to move a hundred or so more miles out of the way to be safer. Talk with locals who have gone through a storm or three. And track the constantly changing storm forecasts closely.  

Rockport, Texas following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for being prepared for hurricanes in an RV

Keep your tanks at their optimal levels, always

When an evacuation is ordered, local fuel stations will become overwhelmed with everyone filling up. Trying to maneuver your large RV in that chaos will be a disaster in itself. 

Fuel can become scarce as the storm approaches and remain that way for days or weeks after the storm. Always keep your fuel tanks full, so you’re ready to turn the key and drive away or able to use your generator after the storm when power may be out for weeks. 

Keep your fresh water tank topped off as well, especially in the day or two before a storm approaches. Some RV parks may turn off water in preparation and after the storm water may be unavailable due to contamination or water main breaks. Use your RV water tank to your advantage. 

Empty those black and grey tanks in advance of the storm! You just don’t know when you’ll be able to dump again as drainage systems could become backed up with flooding from the storm. 

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

If you evacuate, anticipate that main roads will be slow going—especially if you wait until the last days before the storm’s approach. Staying aware and getting out early can result in a smoother exodus but could also result in evacuating for no reason if the storm’s track changes. Always try to stay ahead of the mass exodus if you can and consider taking back roads instead of main roads to avoid as much traffic as possible. 

As you’re evacuating, continue to track the storm—its path could change to intersect with your destination!

So where should you head? As far away from where the hurricane is predicted to travel as possible. While local parks might be shutting down, other facilities might open up and welcome evacuating RVers—sometimes even for free. Stay in the know via various RVing groups who will often share various suggestions of places you can head. 

After the storm, if you decide to head back to where you evacuated from investigate first to see if it’s even safe. Anticipate power and water not being available, massive damage, stores not being open or stocked for a while, and your RV park not even being suitable for return. 

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

If it is safe to return, your self-contained RV may be the perfect base camp to endure the challenges. Perhaps you can even bring in supplies from outside to help others and pitch in and help with the clean-up while locals are dealing with significant damage.

I have more on hurricanes and other natural disasters:

Stay safe out there!

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jodi Picoult

New Airborne Radar Could Be a Game-Changer for Forecasting Hurricanes

The start of June marks the start of hurricane season in the Atlantic

June 1 marks the start of the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season which extends through November 30. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) seasonal outlook predicts another active, yet near-normal Atlantic hurricane season with 12-17 named storms forecasted, 1-4 becoming major hurricanes. According to the National Hurricane Center, 2022 had only two major hurricanes but was considered one of the costliest seasons on record.

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

But experts have noted this season comes with a high level of uncertainty based on a developing El Niño and an unusually warm Atlantic Basin. Strong westerly winds spurred on by El Niño—a natural climate pattern marked by warmer-than-average Pacific Ocean water—tend to prevent nascent Atlantic storms from developing. This occurs because those increased upper-level winds can tear apart hurricanes as they try to form.

NOAA’s National Hurricane Center provides tropical storm and hurricane forecasts and warnings to help mitigate the impact of large storms. Recent technological advances have also helped the cause like the GOES-16 satellite. This satellite makes it possible to see hurricanes and other storms in their formative stages which help weather forecasters stay up to date.

The National Weather Service has invested substantially in supercomputing to gain three-fold processing power in turn reducing storm tracking and location error rates.

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

With the capability to fly over severe weather and achieve high altitudes for up to 30 hours straight, intelligence gathered by Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk UAV has helped civilian authorities assess storm strength and direction and plan next steps for warnings and disaster relief. In partnership with NASA and NOAA, the Global Hawk UAV has been used to track hurricane intensification.

Next-generation radar technology capable of taking 3D slices of hurricanes and other storms is poised to move ahead after years of fits and starts.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving the news: The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced $91.8 million in funding on June 1— the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season—for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) to design, build, and test airborne phased array radar.

The technology consists of thousands of transmitters and receivers on horizontal plates mounted at different points on a plane.

Together, they would scan storms in unprecedented detail from storms’ overall organization to the type, shape, and direction of movement of droplets within the clouds.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why it matters: Currently, NOAA’s aging hurricane research aircraft fly tail-mounted Doppler radars into the heart of hurricanes. But the new APAR could yield significant insights into weather predictions and climate projections.

For example, it could provide a far more detailed picture of the inner structure of a hurricane. The data can then be fed into computer models to warn of sudden intensity changes and track shifts.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Context: Hurricanes are churning out more rainfall than they used to. The storms are more likely to rapidly intensify with several landfalling systems in recent years leaping multiple categories on the Saffir Simpson Scale in just 24 to 36 hours.

In September 2022, Hurricane Ian suddenly jumped from a Category 3 storm to almost a Category 5. It used to be rare for storms to keep strengthening until landfall let alone do so rapidly. Now it is not. Such an intensity leap was made possible by warm ocean temperatures and abundant atmospheric moisture.

During the past several years, there have been multiple storms that rapidly intensified as they neared the Gulf Coast and did so through landfall. Previously, tropical storms and hurricanes tended to weaken as they neared the northern Gulf Coast in particular falling victim to cooler waters or stronger jet stream winds.

But that did not happen with Hurricanes Laura or Ida in 2020 and 2021—or with Hurricane Michael which ramped all the way up to a Category 5 storm in the Florida Panhandle in 2018.

This technology may also be able to improve understanding of these weather phenomena.

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

Zoom in: The funding will be used for a radar-outfitted C-130 research aircraft operated jointly by NSF and NCAR.

NCAR director Everette Joseph said the radar should be ready for use in 2028.

In addition to the NCAR research radar, NOAA is planning to buy a new fleet of C-130 hurricane hunters and outfit them with APAR units. It aims to have them flying in 2030.

The NSF investment does not cover NOAA’s new equipment though the oceans and atmosphere agency would benefit from NCAR’s research insights.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between the lines: In selecting NCAR for the funding and research, the NSF is following a long-established model with the Boulder, Colorado-based organization.

The partnership has helped advance weather and climate forecasting for decades.

However, NCAR has hit turbulence recently. Last week, NCAR and NSF announced a temporary suspension of flight operations at its research aviation facility at Rocky Mountain Municipal Airport which would be integrally involved in the APAR project.

An NSF spokesperson told Axios the reason for the stand-down was the “discovery of several lapses related to the safety management systems” at the facility.

“NCAR has done an initial analysis and does not expect any impacts on APAR from the safety stand-down at this time,” the spokesperson said.

Currently, a third-party review is taking place “to review NCAR’s aviation processes, culture, communication, and organizational structure,” the NSF said, projecting a return to full flight operations in the fall.

NCAR and the related University Corporation for Atmospheric Research are also trying to find more pilots in the wake of pandemic-related shutdowns and retirements, NSF stated.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What they’re saying: APAR has been a priority for storm researchers and forecasters for years but is only now poised for flight.

Scott Rayder, a former NOAA chief of staff who now leads Leidos’ climate, energy, and environment activities said such technological leaps should not take so long given that lives are at stake with severe storms.

“When I first heard about the technology in 2012 I knew APAR would be a game changer,” Rayder told Axios. “The fact that it took 10 years to get to this decision is a concern—we need to find ways to more rapidly develop technologies like APAR and move them into operations.”

Go deeper

Stay safe out there!

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jodi Picoult

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)

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)