Nature

Clever Journeys: Severe Weather Camping Tips

How much wind would it take to blow you away?

Depending on what you weigh, the strongest sustained winds a large man might be able to withstand without getting blown away is near 70 mph. The maximum gust he could stand without getting blown away is roughly 95 mph.

Severe Weather Events

The following weather events are the most common while camping.  Knowing what to do can make you more educated in case of an emergency.  If you are camping in high-risk areas for hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, and flooding, be sure to have your alerts/radios activated during your stay.

Lightning

There are no reliable warning signs that lightning is going to strike.  If you are outdoors when a lightning storm occurs, your first thought should be to get to shelter to a building or inside your camper as quickly as possible.

If that is not feasible, the next thing to consider is crouching down close to the ground until the lightning passes. 

Make sure you are not the tallest thing around or close to a lone tree or tall object during a lightning storm. 

Generally it’s a good idea to unplug your power at a campground when a big storm is coming. If lightening hits the ground, even on the other side of the campground, it can cause a surge of power through the line into your RV and cause things to burn out. You are usually safe to run your built in generator.

The 30-30 Rule is an easy way to determine the threat of lightning in your area: 30 Seconds: Count the seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. If this time is less than 30 seconds, lightning is a threat. Seek shelter immediately.

Over 60% of lightning fatalities happen when people biking, boating, hiking, camping or fishing.

Most lightning victims are close to safe shelter but don’t head towards it.

Lightening kills more people each year than Tornadoes and Hurricanes combined.

Tornadoes and High Winds

Tornado Watches are issued by the Storm Prediction Center for counties where tornadoes may occur. The watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states. 

Tornado Warning: Take Action! A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

If a Tornado Warning is issued get below ground as quickly as possible.

Get to the nearest storm shelter or basement. If that is not available, try to find a small interior room on the lowest floor the closest sturdy building.

Be sure to leave vehicles as they can go airborne in a strong tornado.

If you are caught in the open during a tornado, lie flat on the ground or try to find a ditch or culvert and roll into a ball to protect your head and torso.

Avoid highway overpasses as a place of shelter, they become wind tunnels during a tornado.

There are several atmospheric warning signs that precipitate a tornado’s arrival:

A dark, often greenish, sky  

Wall clouds or an approaching cloud of debris  

Large hail often in the absence of rain  

Before a tornado strikes, the wind may die down and the air may become very still  

A loud roar similar to a freight train may be heard  

An approaching cloud of debris, even if a funnel is not visible

Despite great strides made in meteorology that help us understand and predict tornadoes, there are still many unknown variables. Advance warning and proper precautions are the only certainties.

Tornadoes can occur at any hour but usually strike during the late afternoon and early evening (3 to 9 p.m. although I had a friend who his lost his life to one at 10:30 a.m.). Most move from southwest to northeast but can move in any direction.

High winds knocked train off bridge in New Mexico, 2019.

They have an average speed of 30 mph, but speeds can vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph.

Normally a tornado will stay on the ground no more than 20 minutes, however, one tornado can touch the ground several times in different areas.

 Wind Advisory means that sustained winds of 30 mph for one hour and/or frequent gusts of at least 45 mph are occurring or expected within the next 36 hours. These winds make it difficult to drive high profile vehicles. 

Winds ranging from 55-63 mph are classed as storm winds, and often result in significant structural damage to RVs, buildings and structures. as well as uproot trees.

Thunderstorm winds of 60-75 mph can overturn unanchored mobile homes (many are unanchored), blow over moving tractor trailers, destroy the average sized shed, and rip some house roofs off. Even worse, these winds are capable of downing trees large enough to easily kill a person.

One study indicated the minimum overturning wind speeds needed to overturn an 18 foot travel trailer was 53 miles per hour (MPH) from a  perpendicular direction to the RV.

For a 29.5 foot motor home: 65 MPH.

For a 29,983 lb. semI-trailer: 73 MPH.

For a 16.4 Class B camper van: 101 MPH.

If you have time and can do it safely when heavy winds are imminent, point your rig in the direction the wind is coming from. This will greatly reduce the impact compared to if you are getting hit broadside.

Put slides and awnings in and stabilizing jacks down. 

Stay hitched up to your vehicle if possible, or hitch-up. Being attached to another large object could lessen impact some.

If motorhome has air bags release the air so that you have less bounce.
If possible and it looks more safe, park next to a wall or hillside to potentially lessen wind impact and even hail damage. (We recently parked to the exterior wall of a trash compactor at a Wendy’s during a sudden hailstorm. Because we were on the side away from the direction the hail was coming down at a strong angle, we had no damages).

It’s vital to move your rig if you are parked under trees. Branches and limbs often go through roofs and windows, causing severe damage or total devastation.

Bottom line: if possible seek quick and more reliable shelter (restrooms, caves, basements, etc.). Variousness in materials, type, weight and conditions will cause different results.

Don’t try to ride out any severe storm in a RV.Even if they may seem sturdy, they do not have a suitable foundation and can be blown over by strong winds or swept away in the event of flooding. Look for the nearest solid structure if a tornado or high winds are present.

Avoid driving in high winds. A motorhome or trailer in motion has far different aerodynamics and dangers than those stationary.

Flash Floods

A flash flood is a flood with a rapid onset, generally less than six hours. 

You may not know a rainstorm 6 miles away happens until the water rushes and fills reservoirs where you are. Be aware if you are camping in a low ground area that is subject to flooding before you camp there.

If you are in a flood zone and get a warning, get to high ground as soon as possible.

Be especially cautious at night when you are driving. Don’t cross flooded roads.  It only takes 18 – 24 inches of water to float an average vehicle. If you are surrounded by water that is not moving, abandon the vehicle and move to higher ground.

If there’s enough time and conditions are safe enough before a storm, drive away from the area.

Otherwise, store the RV in a secure facility as far away as possible from the predicted path of a storm.

If you must park your RV in an open area, make sure it’s on high ground and away from large trees.

Severe Thunderstorms

Know your weather terminology:

Watch: A Watch is when conditions are favorable to become a problem. Be on Alert! Have your weather radios available to receive warnings.

Warning: A Warning is when a weather event is occurring or is expected shortly. If one is issued, it is time to take action.

Severe Thunderstorm: This is a storm that produces one or more of the following: a wind greater than 58 mph, hail resulting in 1 inch or larger, or a tornado.

If one of these is forecasted you will want to seek a way to break camp and move out of the path of the storm or seek indoor shelter.

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