The best way you can keep yourself and your family safe in the event of severe weather when camping is by being informed and prepared. Weather happens! It’s a fact. We can choose to let the threat of severe weather scare us, or we can choose to be armed with information that will help us stay safe when enjoying all that camping has to offer. Wild weather is powerful, but information is power too! Keep these severe weather tips for campers in mind when packing for your trip:
- A NOAA Weather Radio is one of the most important RV accessories you can have with you at all times. The alert that it sends you about impending severe weather could possibly save your life.
- You can also stay on top of the weather by downloading weather apps on your mobile device (most are free), tuning into local radio stations, checking weather updates online, or by turning on the local TV news station.
- Know which county you’re in and the names of nearby towns when on the road since most weather alerts are announced by county names.
- Once you settle into your campsite, determine where the closest medical resources are (med centers, hospitals, ERs, etc.) in case you need to go to one. Campground hosts are good resources for this type of information.
Different types of severe weather come with their own set of unique dangers. While traversing the country with your RV or pitching a tent in your favorite campground, it’s possible that you’ll encounter one or more of the following weather-related threats. Here’s some helpful information in case you find yourself staring down an impending storm.
In order for a thunderstorm to be classified as a severe thunderstorm, it must contain one or more of the following: winds of 58 mph or higher, 1”-diameter hail or larger, or an accompanying tornado. It only takes winds greater than 30 mph to damage a parked RV, so you’ll want to abandon your campsite and find shelter in a strong, covered structure, such as a campground bathroom or an enclosed recreation facility. A poured-concrete building is your best bet. Open picnic shelters or rain shelters are not safe. Before you leave your campsite, make sure your awning is stowed away and any loose camping equipment is secured so that it doesn’t become a projectile object in high winds. If possible, turn your RV so that the rear of it is taking on the brunt of the winds. This is especially important for motorhomes that have large, expensive front windshields that could break from flying debris or RVs with large, broad sides.
- According to the National Weather Service, the odds of a person being struck by lightning in his or her lifetime are around 1 in 12,000. While these are pretty good odds, do you really want to risk it? A good rule of thumb for staying safe during a thunderstorm is, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!” If you can hear thunder, you are within 10 miles of the storm and can be struck by lightning. Don’t let non-threatening skies fool you. Immediately head into a substantial shelter or a hard-topped vehicle with all the windows up when you hear thunder or see lightning. RVs with metal as part of the structure offer some protection against lightning, but RVs made of fiberglass don’t offer any protection. If you’re in your RV when the storm hits and you can’t find shelter elsewhere, do the following:
- If possible, park your rig so that the rear is facing the wind
- Retract stabilizer jacks
- Disconnect and store shore power lines
- Retract and store all antenna
- Disconnect external TV/satellite antenna wiring
- Close all windows and sit with hands in your lap and DO NOT TOUCH anything metal
There isn’t ANY safe place outside when lightning is present, but if you don’t have access to a shelter, there are a few things you can do to try to stay safe.
- First and foremost, never stand next to or under the tallest object around, like a tree. And never BE the tallest object around. Lighting favors tall, pointy, or isolated objects.
- If you’re on high ground, like a mountaintop, when a storm rolls in, move to lower ground immediately. Seek shelter in a low area, possibly under a thick growth of trees.
- Never lie on the ground when hiding. Always crouch with your head between your knees and only the balls of your feet touching the ground. The less contact your body has with the ground, the less likely you are to be affected by potentially deadly ground current. Cover your head with your hands as well.
- Stay away from bodies of water and objects that conduct electricity, like metal fences, fishing poles, golf clubs, metal camping gear, etc.
- Once the storm has passed, wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before going back outside or resuming your activity.
Generally caused by slow-moving thunderstorms or relentless thunderstorm activity in one area, flash floods can happen within minutes and can be very dangerous. Flash floods are one of the top weather-related killers in the U.S. each year and should be taken very seriously. The force of the rushing water can rip down trees, push boulders over, wash out roads, and more. To stay safe when camping, never set up camp in a low-lying area in case heavy thunderstorms move in quickly. Also, avoid setting up camp near a stream or river in case it overflows. In the event of a flash flood, seek higher ground until the waters recede. And NEVER drive your vehicle into floodwaters. If you happen to drive into water that is rising, get out as quickly as possible and head for higher ground. Remember this to stay alive: Turn Around, Don’t Drown!
Tornadoes are one of nature’s scariest and most destructive natural forces. Like a monster that destroys everything in its path, tornadoes are relentless and terrifying with winds that can reach an astounding 300 mph! According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 1,000 tornadoes hit the U.S. every year, so it’s important to know how to stay safe if one is heading your way. Some warning signs of an approaching tornado are:
- A rotating funnel cloud that is extending from a thunderstorm
- A very dark, possibly greenish, sky
- A deafening roar, like a freight train
- Debris is being thrown around and is falling from the sky
- An eerie calm after a thunderstorm
If you notice any of these warning signs or hear a tornado watch/warning being reported on your weather radio or TV station, you need to seek shelter immediately, preferably somewhere underground. Your tent or RV doesn’t offer one inch of protection in a tornado and you should abandon it right away. Some campgrounds have tornado shelters, so ask your campground host about this when you arrive. If yours doesn’t, a campground bathroom will do. Put as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible and stay away from windows. If you’re nowhere near a shelter when the tornado hits, the best thing you can do is lie as flat as you can in a ditch, ravine, creek bed, or other low-lying area. This puts you below the line of flying debris (trees, branches, picnic benches, cars, etc.) that can become deadly missiles. Tornadoes last only minutes, but it can feel like forever when you’re scared for your life.
Tropical Storms & Hurricanes
Tropical storms and hurricanes are nothing to mess around with. They pack a wallop with high winds and surging water. Hurricanes are capable of raising sea level over a dozen feet and creating a storm surge over 20 feet high. Your RV doesn’t stand a chance against this kind of punishing weather. If you are notified of an approaching hurricane, it’s best to just evacuate. So if your destination happens to be in a hurricane prone area (coastal cities such as Houston and Galveston, TX, Miami, FL, Virginia Beach, VA), look for evacuation signs when you arrive. If there aren’t any, plan your own evacuation route. Usually there is plenty of warning before a hurricane arrives, so you can hitch up your RV or pack up your tent and hit the road with all of your belongings. However if you have to leave your possessions behind and head for higher ground, here are a few actions you can take to help protect your rig:
- Cover the vents and A/C unit
- Empty the holding tanks
- Turn off propane tanks
- Cover the regulator
- Secure any exterior camping equipment (grills, chairs, awnings, etc.)
- Cover the windows with plywood using Plylox (allows you to attach plywood without drilling or using screws/nails)
- Put any valuable papers in waterproof, seal-able bags
Severe Weather Facts & Figures
A WATCH means that conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop.
A WARNING means that severe weather has been reported or detected on radar; take shelter or evacuate immediately!
Codell, KS, was hit by a tornado on the same day three years in a row (May 20, 1916, 1917, 1918)!
Contrary to popular belief, lightning CAN strike in the same place twice. The Empire State Building is hit by lightning almost 100 times a year!
In the U.S., flooding does about $6 billion worth of damage and kills about 140 people every year!
Tornadoes happen in every state in the U.S. and during every season.
Tornadoes can happen at any time during the day, but 3pm-9pm is prime time for twisters.
Hurricanes can roar in with winds over 160mph and can dump 2.4 trillion gallons of rain per day!
Hurricane season is from June 1-November 30.