Weather Safety with Marc and Trish of Keep Your Daydream
Marc and Trish Leach of Keep Your Daydream (or KYD) fame invited me on their channel to talk about weather safety while RVing. Watch the first part of this video to get a first-hand description of what it is like to be inside your RV when it is tipped over on its side by high winds!
So … what should you do if you find yourself in a place of higher risk for tornadoes or other severe weather?
— Stay ‘weather-wise’. I recommend having at least two independent ways of getting severe weather information. As RV’ers that’s sometimes not a simple as turning on the TV or looking at the computer.
I recommend a NOAA weather radio (either tuned to the local area or better yet, one that locks onto the strongest signal) in addition to your favorite weather apps. If you are stationary and in a campground with access to either over-the-air or cable TV, local TV is a very good source. Ask the campground host how she/he gets their weather information. If you have cell signal or wifi, you can always go to the National Weather Service for credible info. On RV Weather, I post the latest NWS Tornado and Severe Thunderstorm watches and warnings, 24/7/365, here and here, respectively.
“If you only remember one thing, please remember that RV’s ARE NOT A TORNADO HAVEN.“dwt
If you’re on the road, a local radio station (especially news radio) is a good source and your NOAA weather radio.
Whether you are traveling or especially camping, you’ll need to know what county you are in. Oftentimes both TV and Radio will refer to counties. Easy when we’re at home, but not something we think about always when RVing. There are some websites and apps (e.g., where-am-i.org) to help with that.
You can use weather apps, but be very careful they are using a current location. For reasons I don’t understand fully, many apps ‘lag’ my location around the U.S. by a day, a week or a month! Yes, I have ‘GPS location always on’ for those apps. Just check that. And yes, sometimes they work exactly as advertised. I don’t rely on the apps 100% though.
— Have a plan. Like General Eisenhower (I’m dating myself) famously said “plans are nothing but planning is everything”. You probably won’t execute the exact plan you came up with (and that’s fine), but having thought through where to go, what to bring, how to get there will serve you well.
— Know where to go. If you remember nothing else, remember that RV’S ARE NOT A TORNADO HAVEN.
— No RV (or mobile home) is constructed to withstand a tornado. They will either be thrown through the air or simply disintegrate, with fatal consequences for anyone inside. So know where to go.
— Ask your campground host or office when you check in.When we were staying at Harvest Hosts last summer in severe weather conditions, we would ask the farmer where’s the safest place to go — and verify the door was unlocked!! Oftentimes at campgrounds the bathhouses serve as storm shelters.
— If you are boondocking is there a structure (ideally concrete) you can hide in?
— If you’re on the road, frankly, it’s not good. If possible try to avoid driving towards a storm. If you can see the tornado, if traffic is light, and if possible, drive at right angles away from the storm.
— If you are in extremis, pull off well to the side of the road. You have a decision to make, with two not-great options. If the ground is not flooding and you can get lower than the surrounding area (like in a swale or ditch), it may be best to abandon your vehicle and get as low as possible outside, covering your head with whatever you have available. If there is no place to hide outside or there is rapidly rising and moving water, keep your seatbelt on, your head low and covered by a pillow or any object that will give you protection. Keep the ignition ‘on’ to ensure your airbags are armed. I have to stress though this option is an absolute last resort and is very high risk to your health and safety. Personally, I will leave the vehicle if at all possible.
— If you are in the path of the storm, understand it will come on you more quickly than you think. This is what happened in the top video. And we all know the constraints when towing.
— Know what to bring. Do you have a ‘bug out’ bag of essentials? Can you get your pets with you quickly?
— Rehearse in your mind your plan. Chances are you won’t have to do this. But if you do, having thought it through will let you stay calmer, be more decisive, and fight off panic.
Below are some excellent references from the Storm Prediction Center, ‘ready.gov’ and State of Ohio Emergency Managers on tornado safety (your safety, not the tornado’s). If you read through this and remember the key points, you are doing everything you can to minimize injury and maximize your chance of survival.
National Weather Service Severe Weather Categories used in Outlooks (the ‘Ready’ phase):
I much prefer to use the numerical category, rather than the words. Personally I think the current word descriptions, although understood by meteorologists, are not helpful to the general public. For example, a ‘Moderate Risk’ can mean long-lived, widespread and intense severe weather — that’s doesn’t sound ‘moderate’ to me! Conversely a a threat category of ‘4’ (which is where ‘moderate’ falls) on a scale of 1 to 5 should get most people’s attention.
Here’s my personal interpretation for RV’ers:
- Category 1: Acknowledge that it’s out there
- Category 2: Stay informed; be aware
- Category 3: Stay informed; be prepared; make sure you have a plan whether you are on the road or camping
- Category 4: Avoid if feasible; otherwise do everything in Category 3 and prepare to shelter in a sturdy structure
- Category 5: Avoid if at all possible. If you cannot avoid, stay near a good shelter. Do not risk being on the road.
Where to get Severe Weather information
If you look through the RVWeather.com homepage, there are a number of places to get severe weather information, from the current weather warnings and latest forecasts, to the actual severe weather watches and warnings. These watches and warnings update 24/7 in real-time. You can also see the ‘Severe Weather’ risk for the next three days, and the 4-8 Day Severe Outlook.
LongLongHoneymoon interview with James Spann
James Spann is arguably the dean of Television Meteorologists today in the United States. Outstanding credibility and communication skills. Sean and Kristy of LongLongHoneymoon fame did a 20 minute interview with Spann. It’s packed with outstanding information for RV’ers. Highly worth watching:
Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
The good thing about hurricanes is they frequently come with days, vs. minutes, of warning. That allows us to use our RV’s most valuable asset — its wheels! — and get out the storm’s path. Time is your ally: the sooner you make your decision to evacuate, the more options you have. In the Navy I used to tell Admirals who didn’t want to take action to avoid a typhoon, “You can either make the decision or the storm will make the decision for you”. Then they moved!
“Run from water, hide from wind” *Old hurricane safety adage. *But don’t hide in your RV
I recommend moving from ANY tropical storm or hurricane if you are camping along the immediate coast or next to a stream, river or Bayou connected to the ocean. No one wants to deal with storm surge, and certainly not in an RV. Even if the storm doesn’t look that strong, it can move the ocean inland. Combined with ample rainfall trying to drain through the waterways and into the ocean, you can get unexpectedly high water levels.
If you are safely away from the possibility of storm surge or fresh-water flooding, your next greatest concern is wind. Each RV and each circumstance is different. Are you facing into the wind or is your RV broadside to the wind? Can you reattach your tow vehicle (if you have one) for added weight and stability. A full fresh water tank cannot hurt. Are you in a place safe from flying debris or falling trees – or at risk? In general, if the storm is forecast to be a hurricane OF ANY CATEGORY – I don’t want to be in my RV with the storm.
An additional hazard with many hurricanes making landfall is short-lived but intense tornadoes. Another phenomena you do not want to experience in your RV.
If you decide — or circumstances force you – to ride out the storm in your RV, know that it may take days, or weeks, to have basic services restored in your community. Power and safe fresh water will likely be unavailable for an extended period of time. No power often mean no available diesel or gasoline. You may not have access to propane for your stove or refrigerator. Functional dumping facilities may be hard to find, and you have to use precious fuel to reach the facility.
When to leave?
While no set of circumstances are ever the same, here are some guidelines:
- When asked or directed to leave by your local Police or Emergency Managers. Voluntary or mandatory evacuation – I’m leaving.
- When the campground closes, regardless of the evacuation status.
- If I feel I’m in a particularly vulnerable location (offshore barrier island, only one road back to safety) – I will choose to leave early and be safe.
- When the chance of strong (60 mph or more) winds is 10% and increasing with increasing warnings. I post those graphics on rvweather.com or you can find them on the National Hurricane Center site under the storm in question.
Except for heat, flooding and flash floods kill more people on average than any other type of weather. More than tornadoes, more than lightning, more than hurricanes.
You have likely heard the numbers before, but they bear repeating: Six inches of moving water can sweep you off your feet, while a foot of moving water can pick up your RV and send it (and you) downstream.
A flash flood can be a shocking event. It can be hard to imagine the flow and volume of water, probably flowing when you have never imagined a raging river could be, filled with mud and debris, much of which could kill you with blunt force trauma, turbulent and sucking you down. It’s not a place you want to be. Yet nearly half of all flooding deaths each year are inside cars or trucks.
So how can you avoid being a flooding statistic?
- Monitor the weather. The “Ready – Set – Go!” method works for flash floods as well as severe weather. I post the 3-day Flood outlook here under “Flood Risk”. The best way to escape a flash flood is not to be in one in the first place.
- If you see flooding, move to higher ground.
- You’re heard it for nearly 20 years, but “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” is a phrase to live by.
- If you are driving through a flooded roadway, you don’t know if the road has washed out. If your vehicle stalls, get out! You are at high risk of being swept away.
- Do not camp in a dry wash or near a small stream if there is any risk of flooding.
- As hard as all of this is in the daytime, it’s much harder at night when you cannot see the extent of depth of the running water. Don’t take risks.
National Weather Service Flash Flood and Excessive Rainfall Categories:
Where to get Flash Flood and Excessive Rainfall information
If you look through the RVWeather.com homepage, there are a number of places to get flash flood information, from the current weather warnings and latest forecasts, to the animation of ‘total precipitation’, ‘Flood Risk’ for the next three days, and an outlook for precipitation over the next week (under the ‘3-7 Day Hazards Outlook’ and ‘4-5 day’ and ‘6-7 day’ precipitation outlooks). You can also check out any real-time flash flood warnings. These warnings update 24/7 in real-time.
High Winds and Dust Storms
High winds outside of thunderstorms and tropical storms may not always get the attention of hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, but they can be very stressful to drive in for a sustained period of time, they can last for days on end, and they can move and push the RV around in unpleasant ways when detached and camping.
In extreme cases, high winds can flip your rig or drive large debris, trees or tree limbs through or on top of your rig. In the deserts, high winds can also kick up large dust storms; these can have deadly consequences on high-speed roads.
In this section I’ll cover high winds when detached and camping, and when on the road. I’ll also discuss dust storms.
Like the other hazardous weather the “Ready – Set – Go!” approach will serve you well. You can find graphics of the next three day’s wind outlook here under ‘Wind Gusts’. Between 12 hours and 2 days in advance, the National Weather Service will issue a ‘High Wind Watch’, and then either a Wind Advisory or High Wind Warning when high winds are imminent. Similar to winter storms, the exact criteria for the Warnings varies by region of the country. In general, the thresholds are highest out West and lowest in the Southeast.
Camping or Boondocking in High Winds:
- It should go without saying, but you should retract all your awnings!
- In general, you want to do what you can to reduce your profile and surface area to the oncoming wind, maximize your stability, and lower your center of gravity.
- If you have the ability, park your RV such that it faces the oncoming winds.
- Pull in or minimize your slide-outs.
- Fill your fresh-water tanks if possible.
- If you are in a travel trailer or fifth wheel, hitch back up to add weight and stability from your tow vehicle.
- Put down your stabilizers.
- Check your surroundings. What may blow into your rig or fall on your roof? Can you move or minimize that potential hazard?
- Do you have the option of parking on the lee side of a hill or building that would provide you shelter?
High Winds on the Road
Sustained high winds while piloting your Rig can lead to a very stressful and tiring day. It will matter a lot if the winds are generally from the front (head-winds), from the side (cross-winds) or from the rear (tail-winds).
Tail winds are the easiest to drive in. They reduce the wind resistance, relative to your true speed, and for most rigs, do not greatly impact the stability of your ride or tow. As a bonus, a good tail-wind can substantially improve your fuel mileage!
Head winds will buffet your rig and/or tow vehicle. They will greatly decrease your fuel mileage and make you feel like you are constantly buffeted.
Cross winds will try and push you to one side of your travel lane or the other. You might even see other rigs or semi-trucks “crabbing” down the road, basically driving at an angle to go in a straight line. You will also likely get large changes in winds when you pass or are passed by another large vehicle — be prepared for that.
Here are some tips:
- Slow down. The faster you go, the more impact the winds have on your control.
- Both hands on the wheel. Be prepared to be buffeted and pushed around by both the winds and sudden changes when close to another vehicle.
- Take more breaks. You will be concentrating harder than usual.
- Watch out for the other guy! They may be having a harder time than you maintain lane discipline, or control at all. Give vehicles more space than usual.
- Know your limits. Many factors combine, including the weight and aerodynamic characteristics of your rig, your hitch, anti-sway and weight distribution setup, quality and width of the road, what type (head, cross, tail) wind you are dealing with, how much traffic is on the road, and your own experience and comfort level.
- If the situation is getting beyond your comfort level, pull off the road. You might be delayed a day or two. Oftentimes the highest winds are between lunch and dinnertime, so maybe an early morning start and early afternoon finish will be best.
How much wind is too much?
Like so many other things in RV’ing, “it depends.” It depends on many of those factors listed above. I have had RV Weather users who were terrified to tow in 30-35 mph (gust) crosswinds, and others who were nonplussed by winds gusting 60-65 mph (they were in a 36,000 lb converted bus).
My personal comfort level is under 30 mph gusts — no worries. 30-40 mph gusts — both hands on the wheel and pay attention. 40-55 mph gusts — this is pretty sporting and the fun-meter is pegging low. Gusts 55 mph or higher — it’s time to get off the road and let the winds die off.
I think most RV’ers are OK handling gusts up to 40 or 45 mph. After that, you need to be very careful and know both your abilities at that time and the characteristics of your rig.
Where to get wind information
If you look through the RVWeather.com homepage, there are a number of places to get wind information, from the current weather warnings and latest forecasts, to the animation of wind gusts, wind gusts for the next three afternoons, and an outlook for high winds over the next week (under the “3-7 Day Hazards Outlook”).
One hazard with high winds that can catch people unawares is dust, and specifically, walls of blowing dust and sand that can turn day into night and instantly reduce visibility to near zero. The desert southwest is particularly susceptible to these storms. Unfortunately, they can lead to large pile-ups on high-speed highways and multiple deaths, as cars, trucks and RVs slam into stopped vehicles they could not see.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has a 30-second video showing you what it is like to drive into a Dust Storm and lose all visibility.
Here’s what to do:
- If you have any way to avoid the dust storm — do not drive into it. Avoidance is by far the safest option.
- If you are caught in a dust storm
- Pull as far to the side of the road and out of the travel lanes as you can be.
- Keep your seat belt on.
- Take your foot OFF the brake.
- TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF!
You turn your lights off so a vehicle behind you doesn’t crash into you, thinking they are following a car or truck in the travel lane.
“Pull Aside — Stay Alive!”