What to do in an RV when Severe Weather Threatens
It’s spring time, which if you are in the South means it just became tornado season! Which is really dangerous if you are in an RV.
While unpredictable, as compared to hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe weather usually don’t just pop up unexpectedly. You may not have as much warning, but generally you have some warning that bad weather is headed your way.
Let’s talk about what to do in your RV if you are expecting severe weather in your area. Remember the first and most important thing is to keep YOU and your family and friends safe during severe weather. Pets next. Property last.
And before we get too far into the list – this is all the different things I could think of. Obviously, you’ll need to consider how much to do and what on the list to do, depending on how much warning you have and other circumstances. Not every suggestion is going to work for every RVing situation – your circumstances may be different.
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Know Where – and Use – the Storm Shelters
You know that it isn’t safe to ride out a storm in an RV, right?
Instead, you need to be in a storm shelter. Which means you need to know where the nearest storm shelters are for your location.
If you are RV tailgating near a stadium, like on a college campus, there are likely nearby buildings that you could safety hide out in. Of course, recently, the problem is that many of those buildings are going to be secure access, limiting which ones you can get into. Thus, you need a plan and a backup plan. How far away is a solid building that you can go to in case of a severe weather event?
If you are in a campground, you should always ask when you first arrive where the storm shelter is. Often, these will pull double duty by also being the showers or laundry rooms. Because most campgrounds aren’t going to have a building that is rarely used.
Remember the rules from the sticks and bricks homes: you want to get to a below-ground/basement level if possible. If not, go to the interior most area, away from glass windows. Under stairs is awesome because these areas have a lot of structural support. Doorways and bath tubs or even under large tables also work.
So when that tornado watch becomes a tornado warning, you need to head to the storm shelter (if you aren’t there already).
What About Severe Weather When Your Driving the RV
Severe weather, including flash floods and tornadoes don’t just happen when you are parked in a campground. Sometimes, they will hit when you are on the road.
You should make sure that you are aware of the weather along your path. With streaming and satellite radio, many of us aren’t listening to local radio as we drive. That’s why you should have weather apps and alerts on your phones, with GPS/location services always enabled even when you aren’t using the app. Remember, when you are traveling at 60 mph (or more), weather can come up on you fast with sometimes little warning.
One very important app that you should add to your phone right now is “Highway Weather.” I love this app because it can tell you when the best times are to avoid weather on your intended route. This lets you plan so that you can AVOID severe weather in your RV, which is way better than having to take action on the road when you get into the severe weather.
But if you do happen to catch severe weather while you are driving, remember that your RV is not a safe place to ride out a tornado or other severe storm with heavy winds. But neither is the area under an overpass. The best thing you can do is to find sturdy storm shelters; second best is low lying area
Your RV is likely to get broad side and can flip over. Large windows and thin walls make the likelihood of projectile damage high. Here is a video from The Weather Channel that showcases what you should do.
What To Do Before Severe Weather
Know Where You Are – County Level
You should always know what county you are in!
Many times, you will only know the city. But the National Weather Service issues warnings based on county.
So you could be listening to the radio or reading news reports and have no clue where the severe weather is! That’s why it is always important to know what county you are in. Whether boondocking, parked in a campground, or on the road, stay alert to what county you are in so you can be prepared to take action if your county is under a watch and then a warning for severe weather!
Charge Your Mobile Devices
Storms often mean power outages. I mean, it only takes a limb falling across a power line to take you down. Or a transformer blowing.
So before the storm comes in, make sure your cellphones and tablets are fully charged. This will be very important if you have to leave your RV to seek a storm shelter.
While you are at it, go ahead and charge up the RV batteries if you’ve been boondocking.
Prep a “Go Bag”
You’ve probably heard about disaster prep people or those that may be called away on emergencies that have “go bags” – a pre-packed bag that is ready to grab at a moment’s notice to get you through the upcoming event.
The go bag can change on the circumstances. But a few basics are always a good thing to have on hand. Like a first aid kit to handle scratches and what not. Some headache meds are also good as the changes in pressure plus the stress often lead to headaches. I add allergy meds too because the storms can kick up a bunch of settled allergens (pollen, dust, etc) that can give me problems. Plus dusty storm shelters can be a hazard in and of themselves.
Other things that are useful for a severe storm go bag: flashlights, poncho or rain jacket, cellphone charger, pack of cards or other entertainment especially if you have kids. If you have pets, you will want a leash on hand. A bone or chew toy can also be useful to help with a dog’s anxiety during a storm. A blanket or beach towel is also quite useful whether to sit on, cover up from flying debris, or to dry off. Don’t forget some snacks and a few bottles of water. You may be sitting out a storm for awhile in a storm shelter.
Also, have your keys and wallet ready to go. You don’t want to be searching for keys to lock your RV up as the storm approaches.
If you have plenty of time, don’t be afraid to take a camping chair with you to the storm shelter. If you are in an area with lots of RVers, then there probably won’t be a lot of seating. It’ll be better than sitting on the floor. Those cushioned stadium seats are also a good thing to take with.
Get Dressed – With Shoes
I know it sounds kind of weird, but seriously, get dressed as a storm approaches.
Especially considering that many storms are during the night, if you are woken up by the storm, you should immediately get dressed. Jeans or other long pants, yes, even during the summer. And even if it is hot outside, grab a light weight jacket or long-sleeve jacket too. And sturdy shoes!
Why do I suggest pants, long sleeve shirts, and sturdy shoes? These will give you the most protection from flying debris. And after the storm, you may have to climb over fallen limbs or debris. You don’t want to get cut up because you don’t have shoes on. Or you are wearing thin flip flops.
Monitor the Weather in the RV
Smartphone Weather Apps for RVers
Many of the smartphone apps use your phone’s location using GPS to give you up to date warnings on your specific location. But you’ll need to enable GPS for the app on your phone. Thank you privacy settings, but in this case, you’ll want these trackers on. Which also means that you should only use trusted app providers and not unknowns that may be using your data for nefarious purposes. (Don’t you just love that word, nefarious? I should find more places to use it!)
Also remember that when it comes to apps, many of the alerts and notifications will not override silent or do not disturb settings. So it is important that when the forecast calls for severe weather, you change these settings. Definitely important for night-time storms when many of us have our phones automatically go into DND mode.
As previously mentioned, Highway Weather is one of my favorite smartphone apps for RVers. You can put in your departure and destination locations, select a route, and it will give you forecasts along your route.
The app will even provide alternative departure times to let you avoid severe or even poor weather. Because who wants to drive in rain, even if it isn’t a severe thunderstorm? It can also alert you to foggy and high wind conditions that will make driving in an RV dangerous.
The Weather Channel
If you are thinking severe weather, you think The Weather Channel, right?
Seriously, they have one of the best apps available for tracking weather and giving you severe weather alerts.
Tornado by the American Red Cross
Another trusted name in emergency and environmental disasters is the American Red Cross. They have an app for tornadoes. And the app goes beyond simple alerts and warnings.
The Tornado app has lots of important information on how to handle the aftermath of a storm, even if cell towers or the power grid is down. The app has information stored offline, so no data connection would be required after initial download.
For before storms, you can also set up multiple locations to monitor for alerts. This is great for a lot of reasons, but your family can help by monitoring the area you are in so that they can call to let you know about potential bad weather!
The app also has details on Red Cross shelters and a friends and family alert system for after the storm. (“I’m safe!” notice to your friends)
Weather Radios for the RV
And since sometimes we are in areas that don’t have the best cellphone data reception, I don’t like to rely solely on smartphone apps. Plus, we too often don’t remember to take them off do not disturb or silent, so we won’t get the alerts anyways.
There are two severe weather radios that I recommend in RV life:
Local TV and Radio Coverage
During severe storms, I also like to switch over to live weather coverage from local television and radio stations.
There’s something about seeing maps and the local guys explain exactly where the storm is that is much better than simple alerts. I want to know what the radar is saying and how the local meteorologists, who are the most familiar with the local storms, think the storms will move. Where will the storm be in 15 minutes or 30 minutes?
To me, there’s nothing like it. And if you are in Alabama, make sure to tune into James Spann. He’s the severe weather guru and you’ll know how bad the storm is based on how much he is wearing. If he is still in the suit coat and tie, it’s not time to worry. When he starts losing the jacket, rolling up the sleeves, then you know it is time to worry!
Protect Your RV During Severe Weather Storms
But let’s say you are at a campground or boondocking somewhere in your RV. Maybe even have some time to prepare because you got a warning. What should you do to prepare?
Bring in the Awning
At the first sign of any bad weather, you are going to want to bring in your awning. Seriously, as soon as it starts flapping when the wind picks up, that’s your sign that it is time to take action.
RV awnings are so easily damaged. One strong gust of wind is all it takes. I’ll bring in my awning in anything other than good weather, doesn’t even have to be severe weather.
Pick Up the Outdoor Camping and Tailgating Gear
The next thing that I typically do as storms are approaching is to make sure that I pick up all the outdoor stuff.
If nothing else, you don’t want all your camping chairs to be wet when the storm passes. So I’ll at a minimum fold them up and put them under the slide at just the first inkling that it is going to rain.
But if it is going to be severe weather, especially if tornadoes are possible, I’ll put them in the basement. Not only will it keep the items dry, it will stop them from becoming possible projectiles and harming people or property during the storm. It’ll also make clean-up easier if there are that many fewer things to pick up.
Bring in the Slides
Once the wind really picks up, you’ll start hearing the slide toppers flap in the wind.
I’ve had a storm roll in and actually rip the slide topper out of the side. Fortunately, I was in Red Bay, Alabama at the time – where Tiffins are made. So there are lots of RV mechanics in the area and I was able to get someone out there same day to fix it (and put in better screws on the slide toppers). Most won’t be that lucky.
The other thing that bringing the slides in will do is to make it more aerodynamic. I mean, we drive down the interstate so it’s not like RVs can’t withstand many of the forces involved.
Fill the Freshwater Tank
Wait, huh? Yes, I want you to fill up the freshwater tank. And then I want you to disconnect from the water and sewer systems.
First, your hoses are part of the outdoor stuff that you should have already put away so that they don’t become projectiles. Plus, if they are ripped off during a storm, they are likely to do some damage and who wants damage to the water/sewer system in their RV?
Second, the extra water in your RV is good. Heavier stuff, especially with the weight at or near the ground, makes it less likely to tip over or move about. It is still possible, but a lot less likely that you’ll have problems if you have more weight and move the center of gravity lower.
Disconnect from Power Sources
One thing that a lot of severe storms will bring is lightning. And if one hits your campground electric system, you are likely to get a surge through your RV electrical system.
By disconnecting, you are protecting your RV from a surge if lightning strikes nearby. And you are protecting your neighbors if lightning hits your RV.
Sure, your RV surge protector/electrical protector will likely stop surges from lightning strikes, by why risk it?
RV Jacks Up!
Your jacks aren’t designed to withstand the heavy forces that a severe thunderstorm or tornado would put on them.
It’s much better to bring your jacks up, let the RV rest on the wheels and let the suspension take care of the rest.
Another reason to bring your jacks up is because lots of rain can often mean lots of mud after the fact. And if your jacks are stuck in the mud, they may cause damage when you try to leave/retract them later.
See Also: Make Your Own RV Jack Pads
Consider Whether to Move the RV
Shaded campgrounds are great in the summer. Not so great when severe weather rolls in.
Why? Because shade is usually from trees. With branches. That are going to go crack, snap, and pop and then fall on your roof.
Flooding Can Also Be An Issue to Your RV
You may also want to consider the possibility of flooding. Severe thunderstorms often bring with them a lot of rain in a short period of time which can lead to flash flooding. Longer, sustained rain could also put pressure on dams upstream of you. Either can cause rivers or creeks to overflow their banks.
But just because you aren’t near a creek, river, or lake, also consider the drainage where you are. Are you in a low lying area that could easily be hit with flash flooding? Since we are often traveling in unfamiliar areas, it is worth checking out a few resources. Campground reviews may mention prior flooding.
You can also check out FEMA’s Flood Map Service to see if your campground is in a flood zone. Put in the address of your campground or boondocking spot (GPS coordinates work too) and you can see whether you are in an area likely to flood.
For example, here you can see that Indian Brave Campground in Harmony, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh) is next to a creek. And much of the campground is in an area designated as “regulatory floodway.” The campground, especially the spots near the creek, have been known to flood.
Surviving Tornadoes in an RV
Remember, the first priority in any severe weather is to protect human life. Then pets. Then property, including your RV.
But when you have plenty of warning (because of those smartphone apps, weather forecasts and radios), you can take proactive measures to help protect your RV and make your escape to a storm shelter more comfortable!
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