Tornado Safety for RVers: What to Do During a Tornado

You can’t always drive away from bad weather. That’s why you need to know tornado safety for RVers. Here’s what to do if you’re in your RV when a tornado hits.

I want to give the biggest tip right off the bat because if you don’t read anything else, you’ll at least have read this. Take every single tornado warning seriously. 

People easily become desensitized when repeated warnings don’t lead to traumatic results. But you have to remember, it only takes one tornado to wipe you out. So, you have to take every single warning seriously.

Not taking it seriously throws away the amazing gift we have of advanced warning. Up until very recently, any warning that preceded obvious visual evidence was rare.

A pending storm in Montgomery, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life-saving tips

Now that you’ve hopefully committed to properly reacting to tornado warnings, here is what you need to know. The following are life-saving tips that can keep you and your family safe in the event of not only a tornado but also severe windstorms.

Tip #1: Take tornado warnings seriously

Okay, okay, I know I covered this ad nauseam in the intro. But I just had to note it again real quick for the scrollers. If you scrolled past the intro, go back and read it!

Tip #2: Stay calm

Following my excessive warnings to take warnings seriously, it’s important to then advise you to stay calm. To paraphrase Hunger Games, the “odds are ever in your favor” to not get hit by a tornado. In fact, on average, more people are killed by lightning than by tornadoes every year.

Your odds of not being killed by a tornado, however, improve even more if you remain calm. And, the best way to stay calm is to be prepared. So, the following tips prepare you for you to stay calm more easily…

A storm in Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tip #3: Know where to go before you need to go

If you are camping in tornado country (and especially in tornado season), talk to your campground director when you arrive. Ask them if there are any nearby shelters or what they recommend in case of a tornado.

If you’re not staying at a campground, check local resources to locate storm shelters. A simple Google search should do the trick but you can also stop in at tourist, fire, and police departments. At the very least, you can ask some locals at a diner during lunch.

The locals will likely reassure you that you don’t have to worry about tornadoes, but, remember, it only takes one tornado to take you out! 

Growing up in the area, the locals are most at risk of being desensitized to the real danger. So, let their reassurances calm you but not lead you to take storm warnings for granted.

There are also warning signs of a tornado coming you should be aware of.

Tip #4: Have old school technology on hand

Yes, your phone sends notifications of weather warnings. Yes, your GPS can show you all of the routes out of town. But neither are reliable in remote locations let alone in a severe storm. That’s why old-school tech is part of tornado safety for RVers.

You should have a weather radio with NOAA scan technology. The National Weather Service continuously broadcasts updated weather warnings and forecasts.

A physical map can also help you navigate away from a storm. But, you should only try to drive away from a building storm, not an actual tornado! 

Once you receive a tornado warning, it’s time for the next tip…

A storm in Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tip #5: Abandon your RV

Your RV offers very little protection from tornadoes. As gas usage has taught us, they’re just big windsails. Not to mention the relatively thin walls and basic glass windows. 

If a tornado is headed your way, abandon your RV to seek shelter. What kind of shelter is best? That brings us to Tip #6…

Tip #6: Seek these types of shelters

Whether or not you’re from Tornado Alley, you likely know that underground shelters are best. If there is one nearby, go for it. But in many cases, an underground shelter will not be available or close enough, especially in campgrounds.

Your next best bet is to hunker down inside or behind a concrete structure. Campground bathrooms are often made of concrete so that can be a good option. Dumpsters are often surrounded by concrete walls so pushing the dumpster out and hunkering inside is another option. 

Most deaths and injuries from tornadoes are caused by flying debris. So, your goal is to put a thick barrier between you and debris whether it’s the ground, concrete walls, or a large boulder.

An interior room without windows like in the clubhouse is a viable option as well.

If there are no shelters nearby (which is often the case if you’re driving) then the next best thing falls under Tip #7.

A storm in Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tip #7: Seek the lowest point in the ground

If you are driving along and suddenly realize a tornado is bearing down on you, pull over, get out of your RV, and seek the lowest point in the ground. The same is true if you’re camping or parked somewhere where no strong shelters are available.

As I previously mentioned, flying debris presents the biggest danger. So, lying down in a ditch or even crawling into a large storm pipe can give you added protection. The idea is for any debris to fly over you, not into you. 

If it’s possible to quickly and easily grab some couch cushions or a mattress from your RV to cover yourself with, all the better. But only do that if it doesn’t cost you much time. Your priority is to get in the ditch!

Tip #8: Beware of downed power lines

Aside from flying debris, another big danger most people don’t consider is downed power lines. If you were in or near a tornado’s path, be alert for power lines that went down in the storm. This is key in practicing tornado safety for RVers!

Give downed power lines a very wide berth! They can skip around. More so, they can still transmit electricity through wet ground. Since rain often accompanies tornadoes, getting anywhere close to a downed power line can get you electrocuted.

After the storm? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More tips for tornado safety for RVers

Though I’ve covered the “biggies” in this article, I always say the more tips the better! If you have any additional tips for tornado safety for RVers, please share them on social media. 

Since I’m talking safety, here are a few related articles:

And now to take our minds off the scary threats of nature, let’s take a trip through all of the beauty America has to offer…

I have a travel library filled with RV adventure guides. They’re tried-and-true itineraries based on our real travels. Here is a sampling:

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

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

Weather Terms RVers Need to Know

All the winter storm advisories, alerts, watches, and warnings that we’ll soon start seeing can be confusing. The National Weather Service does a great job of disseminating weather predictions but sometimes it can be hard to know just what is what.

In the year 350 B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle gave one of the earliest descriptions of weather patterns in a text called Meteorologica. It included some of mankind’s first attempts to observe and record natural phenomena like water evaporation and earthquakes. Although it was a far cry from the Weather Channel, Meteorologica was the start of something that had eluded human beings for time immemorial: the ability to understand—and even predict—the weather.

Modern weather forecasting is a $7 billion-a-year industry—and for good reason. Despite all the advanced technology of modern society, humans are still pretty much at the mercy of the elements. America’s GDP can fluctuate by more than $1.34 trillion depending on the weather. In 2020 alone, more than 60,000 weather events killed 585 people in the United States and injured more than 1,700 more with flash floods, tropical storms, heat, tornadoes, ice storms, and thunderstorms doing most of the damage.

Weather forecasters are easy targets because, like football referees, people tend to take notice only when they get it wrong. The reality, however, is that meteorologists are right in astonishing percentages. When weathermen and women issue seven-day forecasts, they’re accurate about 80 percent of the time—90 percent for five-day forecasts.

If someone had told Aristotle that human beings would one day be able to accurately predict the weather nine times out of 10, five days in advance, he likely would have laughed at their overactive imagination.

It’s important to note that climate and weather are not interchangeable terms. Weather describes the short-term—day-to-day and hour-to-hour—state of the atmosphere including temperature, precipitation, wind, and visibility. Climate, on the other hand, measures average weather patterns over several decades.

I used a variety of scientific sources to compile this list of common weather terms that RVers should know and understand.

Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Atmospheric pressure

Humans inhabit the very bottom of the Earth’s atmosphere and everything above creates atmospheric pressure. High-pressure systems form when downward pressure creates a clockwise air rotation, unlike low-pressure systems which generate counter-clockwise rotation. Both phenomena which are measured with barometers are critical to predicting weather events.

Black ice

Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of winter-related fatalities so when a meteorologist warns about the potential for black ice drivers should take it seriously. Black ice gets its name because it’s so thin that it’s nearly invisible on the road surface but the ice itself isn’t black. Black ice forms when sudden temperature increases causing snow to melt and drip onto roadways that are still cold enough to make the liquid water freeze on contact.

Blizzard

Not just any big snowstorm qualifies as a blizzard. A storm must meet three criteria to earn the harshest classification in winter weather. Blizzards have frequent wind gusts of at least 35 mph, sustained falling or blowing snow that reduces visibility to less than a quarter-mile, and these conditions are maintained for at least three consecutive hours.

Breezy and windy

The terms windy and breezy are sometimes used interchangeably but they don’t describe the same phenomenon. Breezy conditions involve air moving between 12 and 22 mph during pleasant conditions. Windy days, on the other hand, involve stronger winds up to 50 mph during stormy or inclement weather.

Dew point

The dew point represents the temperature to which air would have to be cooled to reach a level of moisture saturation. When it reaches the dew point, droplets of water or dew begin to form on solid objects like grass and vehicles.

Drought

Most people know droughts result from an extended lack of precipitation and abnormally high temperatures but overpopulation and land overuse are contributing factors, too. Droughts are among the most destructive forces in nature—only hurricanes are more economically damaging to the United States.

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

El Niño

The opposing warm half of ENSO is called El Niño (The Boy) which occurs irregularly every two to seven years and is often followed closely by a La Niña (see below) pattern. It warms the oceans and creates the opposite effect in terms of not just ocean temperatures but atmospheric pressure. It, too, is associated with irregular and sometimes severe weather patterns.

Flash flood

Flash flooding occurs when large amounts of water from sudden torrential rains—or occasionally an incident like the breaking of a dam—gushes through a narrow area that isn’t capable of absorbing high volumes of water. In many cases, flash floods which can roll cars and destroy houses happen in the immediate aftermath of extended droughts where parched land can’t absorb the influx of water quickly enough.

Flood crest

Flooding is one of the deadliest and most destructive weather phenomena in the country and on the planet. Weather professionals use specific terminology to describe rivers as they rise from excess water. A flood crest is the peak—the highest level the water will rise—which is the most significant and dangerous time of a flood but also an indication that the flood will soon recede.

Freezing rain

Freezing rain is formed through the same general process that creates sleet (see below) but they’re not the same thing. Sleet falls to the ground as ice. Freezing rain, on the other hand, remains in liquid form until it hits a cold object and then instantly freezes on contact.

Frost

Gardeners make their plans according to the first and last frost schedules in their respective agricultural zones. The frozen version of dew, frost occurs when cold, moisture-soaked air deposits water that freezes and leaves an icy film on things like plants and car windows.

Hail

Unlike sleet (see below) which is ice formed by rain falling through very cold air, hail is a much more dangerous phenomenon associated with much more dangerous weather. Hail forms when powerful updrafts inside of thunderstorms force water well above the freezing level. That water freezes into large hailstones which eventually become too heavy for the updraft and come crashing down to Earth.

Daytona Beach, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Haze

The dreaded three H’s are hazy, hot, and humid. Hot is self-explanatory, humidity deals with the level of moisture in the air but what exactly does it mean to be hazy? A haze can look like a thin fog but it isn’t caused by precipitation. Hazy conditions occur when large amounts of fine, dry particulate matter like dirt are suspended in the air which scatters light and gives the lower atmosphere a cloudy appearance.

Heat index

The heat index is essentially the same thing as the wind chill factor (see below) but for the opposite sensation of environmental exposure. It represents how hot the temperature feels when humidity is considered. The more humid the air, the less perspiration can evaporate which cripples the human body’s cooling system and makes it feel hotter when it’s humid outside.

Heat wave

Heat waves are long periods of abnormally warm weather. To qualify as a heat wave, it must last for at least two days and consist of temperatures that are outside the region’s historical average.

Ice storm

Ice storms are extended episodes of freezing rain that occur when precipitation falls in liquid form and freezes on contact. It becomes an ice storm when a quarter-inch or more of ice accumulates creating dangerous conditions. Ice storms which can be deadly and cause a lasting impact can add 500 pounds to the weight of power lines and increase the weight of tree limbs by a multiplier of 30.

Jet stream

Jet streams are thin but intense winds in the highest reaches of the atmosphere. Following the boundaries of cold and warm air, jet streams blow west to east although their flow sometimes shifts to north and south. Not only do these rivers of air affect global weather and help meteorologists identify atmospheric patterns but they’re crucial to air travel as flying into and out of them can dramatically affect fuel consumption and flight time.

La Niña

One half of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, La Niña (The Girl) is a global weather pattern that describes a dramatic cooling of ocean temperatures in the Western Hemisphere. La Niña is known for its disruptive impact on weather specifically heavy rainfall and an increase in low-pressure systems.

Okefenokee, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Microburst

Microbursts are among the most dangerous and unpredictable weather phenomena on Earth and they form inside of already-dangerous thunderstorms. Updrafts—columns of rapidly rising air—sometimes suspend large amounts of rain and ice and when the updraft weakens, there’s nothing left to hold all that water and ice in place. That leads to a massive downdraft which sends the core of the column crashing to the ground and, upon impact, bursting out in all directions, leading to tornado-like winds, pressure, and destruction.

Nor’easter

Nor’easters are major, dangerous storms that are exclusive to the Northeastern United States. Geography, however, is not where these storms get their name. Nor’easters are named for the direction in which the storm’s most intense winds blow. Those winds are usually severe and they’re known to bring rain and snow and cause flooding and storm surges.

Polar vortex

The menacing phrase polar vortex is a relatively new term for winter weather forecasting but meteorologists have understood it as a concept for decades. A polar vortex occurs when a large section of very cold air, usually the coldest in the entire northern hemisphere, is pushed down the North American continent as far south as the Midwestern and Northeastern United States.

Relative humidity

Relative humidity is closely related to dew point (see above) but the two terms are not interchangeable. This term describes the amount of atmospheric moisture that exists relative to the amount that would exist if the air was saturated.

Severe thunderstorm

There are garden-variety thunderstorms and severe thunderstorms and when meteorologists mention the latter, the public should take it seriously. To be classified as severe, thunderstorms must include two potentially deadly elements: winds of at least 58 mph and hail at least one inch in diameter.

Sleet

One of the more unpleasant precipitation events associated with winter is sleet which stings the skin and turns roads and sidewalks into ice-skating rinks. Sleet graces the world with its presence when rain or melted snow freezes and turns into ice on its way from the sky to the ground.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Storm surge

It’s common to hear meteorologists warn that storm surge is one of the deadliest and most dangerous parts of major weather events like hurricanes. The phenomenon occurs when significant storms cause an abnormal rise in seawater above the limits of the astronomical tide. Storm surges can cause rapid, significant, and deadly flooding in coastal regions.

Tropical depression

Before a weather event graduates into a tropical storm, it’s a tropical depression. The infant stage of a hurricane, a tropical depression is a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds up to 38 mph.

Tropical storm

People sometimes use the terms tropical storm and hurricane interchangeably but one is an evolution of the other. Tropical storms form in the same places and under the same conditions as hurricanes but they achieve maximum sustained wind of just 39–73 mph. If a tropical storm’s maximum sustained winds hit 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane.

Watches and warnings

Meteorologists issue precautions to inform residents about the likelihood of serious and fast-moving weather events like tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Watches are less serious and indicate that conditions are present for the formation of a severe weather event. Warnings, on the other hand, indicate that an event has been identified by a person or radar, a tornado or thunderstorm is imminent and to seek shelter immediately.

Wind chill

Everyone in North America north of a certain latitude knows there are two temperatures they have to consider when getting dressed in the morning in winter—the actual temperature reading and the one that counts: the wind chill factor. Also known as the feels-like temperature, wind chill represents how cold the weather feels on human skin when the chilling effect of the wind is taken into consideration.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wintry mix

Two words cold-weather commuters never want to hear are a wintry mix. When precipitation travels through an above-freezing warm layer of air followed by a cold, below-freezing layer, snow, sleet, and freezing rain can fall simultaneously.

Since we’re talking weather, here are a few related articles:

Worth Pondering…

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

—Mark Twain (1835-1910)

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

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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)

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