6 Things You Need To Know about Camping in a Storm

Survival tips for RV camping in storms and bad weather

Spring and summer storms can make RV camping a scary experience rather than the fun and pleasant one it should be. 

What’s an avid camper to do? Fortunately, there are ways to ensure you and your family stay safe while also fully enjoying the camping season. Here are my top tips for camping during storm season.

Storm clouds over Capital City RV Park, Montgomery, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Create a storm-smart route

Your tiny home has wheels, after all. Why not use them? 

By avoiding areas such as Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas during tornado season and places where hurricanes tend to crop up during hurricane season you can reduce your risk by quite a lot. Instead, choose to travel to those areas during other times of the year and focus on different destinations during times when storms are likely to come around.

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

2. Pay attention to weather reports

No matter when or where you decide to travel, you need to pay attention to the weather forecast. Knowing if and when a storm might crop up is important because it allows you to watch for it and get out of harm’s way if needed be. I recommend keeping a weather radio on hand for this purpose.

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

It’s also a good idea to install an app such as Weather Bug on your smart phone. This app will send you an alert should severe weather be headed your way. 

Storm clouds over Skyline Ranch Resort, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Stock up on the right supplies

Besides your weather apps and a hand-crank weather radio, there are a few other things you’ll want to keep on hand just in case you end up camping in a storm. These include:

  • Flashlight and spare batteries: This will help you see should the power go out
  • First aid kit: You never know what kind of injury you might need to tend to
  • Water: Being thirsty in a storm shelter is no fun; avoid it by packing bottles of water and be sure to stay hydrated
  • Snacks: In case you get hungry while waiting out a storm, you’ll be glad to have a few non-perishable snacks on hand

I recommend putting all these things into a tote bag. This should be kept in an easily accessible location near the exterior door. It will ensure you’re well prepared. Then you can get to safety quickly.

Make sure your family is fully dressed with closed-toed shoes. Grab your smart phone and any important documents in the rig. Then head to shelter. If you can, grab helmets and/or pillows to cover your head. They also protect you from flying objects. 

Know where to go! Pictured above Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimar, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Know where to go

Of course, if you’re going to head out when the weather gets bad, you don’t want to be confused about where to go. Always establish where you will go in case of a storm when you arrive at a new campground. 

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

Numerous RV parks in tornado alley have storm shelters. As an alternative, head to a bathhouse or another sturdy structure with as few windows as possible. 

When you get to the place where you will wait out the storm, find a place that is far from windows and potential projectiles. Wear your helmets. Keep your important items under you. Use the weather radio to track the storm. Have your pillows close at hand in case you need them.

Overhead trees could be a problem during a severe storm on this site at Jekyll Island Campground, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Check your site

If you have enough notice of an impending storm, there are also several things you can do. If you plan to stay in your rig while camping in a storm, following these fairly simple steps can make a big difference. Take time to follow them. They include:

  • Take pets inside: Dogs and cats deserve a safe, dry place to weather the storm as much as you do—take them to the shelter with you
  • Remove projectiles: If you have chairs or other potential projectiles on your site, stow them; you don’t want one to go through a window
  • Close storage bay doors: Ensure your storage bay doors are closed and secured
  • Retract the awnings: RV awnings can’t stand up to much wind and rain. Keep yours intact by retracting before any kind of storm. As a word of caution, always retract the awning when leaving your rig or retiring for the night.
  • Close the windows: Obviously, you’ll also want to make sure all windows are closed and securely latched
  • Park away from trees: If possible, move your RV out from under trees that could break and fall on your roof causing extensive damage
  • Retract the slides: Slides can catch the wind causing an entire trailer or motorhome to flip
  • Fill the water tank: If it’s going to be very windy or if a tornado is headed your way consider filling your tanks to add more weight to your rig
Bring your pets indoors before a storm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Use common storm sense

Of course, you’ll also want to use your common sense when it comes to storms. Don’t hang out outdoors in a lightning storm. Avoid pools or other bodies of water. Especially if there is lightning in the area. If there is hail, get away from skylights and windshields.

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

Finally, you will want to watch for flooding and evacuate quickly. Head for higher ground if it looks like water is headed your way. 

Worth Pondering…

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

—Mark Twain (1835-1910)

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