By Russ and Tiña De Maris
A big motorhome may look invincible, and being up above the road-hugging level of a four-cylinder coupe, the view is great. But don’t let the view from the rig make you cocky. Weather is no respecter of height or size. A sudden blast of sheer wind can move your motorhome right off the road or whip your trailer into a frenzy of unexpected motion.
The best defense against weather-related RV accidents is keeping a weather-eye open. If you see a cloud that looks a bit ominous, it’s time to get more information. Tune in the local AM radio. Local stations — especially those that don’t play a “canned” imported format — can warn of impending problems. This is particularly true in areas where tornadoes frequent. There are also several very good, and free, weather apps. Please let us know in the comments below what your favorite is.
If you actually see a twister heading your way, your best “out” isn’t likely to try and outrun it. Storm safety experts agree: Get out of the vehicle and take shelter in a building. If there isn’t one in reach, things are a little less clear. We used to say, get out of your vehicle and lie down in a ditch. The American Red Cross says they don’t support that advice anymore unless the ditch is “noticeably lower than the level of the roadway.” Not a deep ditch nearby? “Stay in the [vehicle] with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible.” But beware, the agency says this is a “last resort.” Don’t climb under an overpass. Tornado winds can funnel debris right under such constructs, and if you get in the way of the debris the outcome isn’t pretty.
In any event, if your rig is parked somewhere and there’s a danger of a tornado, do your best to take shelter elsewhere. While your rig can provide a measure of protection, even if you’re seat-belted in, being tossed around inside a rolling coach can have fatal consequences.
Tornadoes aren’t the only game. Sudden rainstorms are more likely, and your rig isn’t Noah’s ark. Slow down, get out of the fast lane, and illuminate your rig by turning on your lights. Too tough to see? Pull off the roadway as far as possible and TURN OFF your lights. That way, the guy behind you won’t see your taillights, think you know where you’re going, and plow right into your rig while you’re parked. The same holds true in a dust storm: Don’t try and punch through one of these devils — if you can’t see, you can’t drive. Pull off the roadway, douse the lights, and wait it out.
Driving in desert country, beware the danger of flooded washes. In rain country, streams and rivers run all the time. In the desert, a “wash” runs only when there’s rain so bridges over gullies are few. With water over a desert road, DON’T drive through it. Six inches of water can float any vehicle off the road. Every year dozens die in vehicles caught in flash floods. Drive through a “posted” wash in Arizona and need a rescue? The “Arizona Stupid Motorist Law” ensures you’ll pay for the cost of your rescue — or your estate will.
Lightning storms? The old saw that the rubber tires of your car will insulate you against damage is an old wives’ tale. Automobiles, by their metallic construction, act as an electrical cage, causing lightning strikes to roll off the car in a generally harmless fashion. BUT many RVs are fiberglass constructs, and lightning may blast a hole right through it. If you’re on the road and lightning threatens, pull over and park, avoiding the tallest trees and utility poles. Close windows and sit with hands in laps. [Editor: Read more in this article from electrical expert Mike Sokol: Think rubber tires will protect your RV from lightning? Think again! (includes video)]
Common sense may be your first line of defense in dealing with what Mother Nature can dish out. Just because your rig is big doesn’t mean a whit compared to the forces that weather can generate.
Editor: Check out our ever-expanding directory of RV Parks (and other locations) with storm shelters, and join our Facebook group RV Parks with Storm Shelters.