Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Nighttime tornadoes and RVs—not a good combination!

Did you know that almost half of all tornadoes strike at night? I read that startling fact on The Weather Channel’s website this week. Nighttime storms are often the cause of higher fatalities simply because folks are sleeping and don’t realize that a tornado is coming. I think we’d all agree that nighttime tornadoes and RVs are not a good combination!

‘Tis the season

The Weather Channel article went on to explain that tornadoes happen most frequently during the months of April, May, and June—but can happen at any time of the year. One of the most powerful tornadoes in Missouri hit in January!

How to prepare

Before your RV trip

One of the first things you can do to prepare for a nighttime tornado, or any severe weather event, is to buy and bring along a weather alert radio like this NOAA one every time you travel in your RV.

If your phone has good cell service, you might also download The Weather Channel app. It will send an emergency notification directly to your phone once you provide your location. Activate the app at bedtime and place the phone on your pillow or somewhere close by so that you’re sure to hear any alerts.

At campground check-in

Ask specific questions when you first check in at the campground office or ranger’s station. Inquire if storms are predicted for the area and if there is a dedicated storm shelter on site. Ask to see it so that you’ll know how to find it from your assigned campsite. If possible, mark the storm shelter’s location on the campground map, along with your RV site’s location. Remember, a sturdily built structure (like the campground’s shower/bath house) can provide emergency shelter if you don’t have time to get to the inground bunker.

During check-in, also find out the name of the county where the park is located. Often TV stations and radios will alert the public by referencing specific county names. You need to know this information in order to make sense of forecasted storm tracks and other emergency alerts.

Before bedtime

Every adult traveling with you should know how to unlock the RV’s entry door. All campers should know the storm shelter location and how to get there safely. (Plan to assist young children and anyone with mobility issues.)

Make sure every adult camper has a flashlight and all campers keep shoes within easy reach. Remember, you may need to find the storm shelter in the dark. (Severe storms cause power outages, so you cannot rely on campground lights to help you find your way.)

If a pet is traveling with you, assign an adult the responsibility of seeing to its safety. Having the dog’s leash by the door or the cat’s carrier near the entry will help expedite your safe exit.

If a tornado warning is issued

A tornado watch is usually broadcast when conditions are favorable for producing a tornado. When a tornado warning is issued for your area, you need to respond as quickly and as calmly as possible and get to a shelter.

If you receive a tornado warning, do not hesitate. Wake other campers, grab your emergency getaway bag and head to the campground storm shelter immediately. Once sheltered, stay well away from all windows and doors. Tamp down the urge to “take a look-see.” Stay calm.

Do not leave the storm shelter until you are certain the threat has completely passed. Use caution when returning to your RV. Stay away from downed power lines, puddles, and any debris that the storm may have caused.

While on the road

My husband and I once huddled inside a fuel station restroom during a fierce summertime storm. Facing a tornado while traveling on the roadway can be very frightening. Here are some recommendations from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration):

If the tornado is a far distance away, change your driving direction so that you’re going away from the tornado and its predicted path. Drive toward a sturdy shelter as quickly and safely as possible. Think: truck stops, convenience stores, or restaurants.

If you know or are able to determine the tornado’s path, drive at a right angle away from it. If the tornado is heading east, then you should head south.

Imminent tornado

If there isn’t time to get to a safe shelter, NOAA recommends two options. First, if the roadway ditch is accessible, get out of your vehicle and quickly move into the depressed or lower area. Put your arms over your head for protection, and shelter as best you can.

Or if you cannot find a safe, low ditch, pull over to the shoulder and remain in the vehicle with your seatbelt buckled. Keep the engine running so that vehicle airbags will remain operational. Crouch down lower than the vehicle windows and cover yourself with your arms and a blanket if possible. Have passengers duck down as well and shelter themselves.


Safety experts warn against travelers sheltering under an overpass. The space under an overhead bridge can function like a wind tunnel, which quickly increases wind speeds. Anything under the bridge can be blown out from under it and into the raging storm. Damaging debris can also funnel into the area at an increased speed, causing a life-threatening situation.

Remember that all tornadoes are different. Some last just a few seconds, while others can be on the ground for several hours!

Tornadoes over the water (waterspouts) can be just as dangerous as tornadoes over land. Take precautions if you see one from the beach and follow safety protocols.

The Weather Channel reports that every state in the U.S. has had at least one confirmed tornado. Every. State. While some states in the Midwest are known as “Tornado Alley” because they experience more tornadoes, don’t ignore the fact that these powerful storms can occur anytime and anywhere. (The strongest tornado to date recorded wind speeds topping out at 318 mph! Reason enough to get that weather radio, right?)

Nighttime tornadoes and RVs are not a good combination! Make sure you and the ones traveling with you have the supplies and knowledge to survive.

Have you ever had to use a campground storm shelter? Or experienced a nighttime tornado while RVing? Share your story in the comments below.



Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.



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David Hagen (@guest_242354)
5 months ago

Good info! I was in a Kansas campground one night when my weather radio went off. Mentioned tornado in xxxx county. Had no idea what county I was in. Office was closed and no cell phones at this time. You would think it would be easy for the weather service to mention what towns were in the path of tornado.

Susan Muir (@guest_242322)
5 months ago

Thank you for such important information to help us keep safe in case of a tornado.

Diane Mc (@guest_242307)
5 months ago

Many experiences. Attend Indy500 every year (May/June) so always alert re weather. Have weather radio we set up when bad weather is forecast. Use a scanner to get NOAA reports locally. Check apps. Went to a shelter one time in Indiana. Concrete building housing the bathrooms. There with 4 other couples. Prior to going we were listening & watching TV (whole area was in red, scary). NOAA via scanner was calling out the exits on the highway that were near the tornado’s path. The noises in our “shelter” were incredible & you have no idea what is happening outside. A tornado did touchdown. Fortunately, for us, it was on the opposite side of the highway. A small town had damage, but no deaths or injuries, This year had a couple of tornados 50 miles north of us in NE.

Donna (@guest_242222)
5 months ago

I’m wondering how many RVs have airbags. Our Class A does not. Our tow does tho.

Bob P (@guest_242198)
5 months ago

I will agree with you and add something anytime there a tornado is not a good time to be in a RV. Plus I have only seen two RV resorts that had a storm shelter and those were hurricane shelters in TX and FL neither of which would protect you in a tornado. The only protection from a tornado is underground, even concrete block buildings still have roofs that can be collapsed on you.

Judy S (@guest_242183)
5 months ago

Nighttime tornados last May and June while traveling home across nearly 1200 miles put me in hospital with something called broken heart syndrome.

I have all the alert systems. Maybe half of the ones that touched down had prior warning.

Cancelproof (@guest_242303)
5 months ago
Reply to  Judy S

I hope you are greatly improved and continue improving Judy. Broken heart syndrome very heavy and very real. 🙏

Goldie (@guest_242178)
5 months ago

My husband and I, and two dogs, spent a some time in a campground office shelter in Virginia. Fortunately the tornado jumped right over our little valley and only one rig in the campground suffered a little damage from flying debris. What was really scary…less than half of the folks in the campground were in the shelter. Most stayed in their campers, either unaware of the imminent danger or under the impression they were safe inside their camper. We were in the direct path of the tornado. Had it not taken the bounce over our little valley, most of those campers would have been destroyed.

Larry (@guest_242171)
5 months ago

The app “WhereAmI” will give you the county that you are in. And you’re right. The NOAA radio will mention the county and roads. I was in Mississippi when a Tornado warning was issued. The office was closed and no clue where to go. And I couldn’t make heads or tails of the information coming over the radio. Couldn’t match up counties or major roads with their information. The best I could do on a dark night was look out the window for any signs of an approaching tornado. Figured the bathroom nearby was my best bet. The storm did eventually pass but I learned the following day that it touched down 10 miles from me. Fortunately, now, with different weather apps you can see your location and the location of a possible tornado. Of course you do need a cell signal.

Tom (@guest_242134)
5 months ago

Flashlights and radios need batteries. Check before each trip before you really need them. Carry spares.

Gail (@guest_242196)
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Good reminder, Tom. Safe travels!

Jim Johnson (@guest_242103)
5 months ago

Another couple notes regarding NOAA weather radios: Most of them can be programmed to only respond to tornado watches/warnings for specific counties. If you have done such programming and move to a different RV park, you need to reprogram your weather radio to your new location – or accept all locations within the NOAA broadcast area. Which brings up the second point. Especially older NOAA radios have to be retuned to the nearest NOAA transmitter. NOAA uses 7 different frequencies to avoid transmitter conflicts. You should make sure your NOAA radio is tuned to the proper frequency as part of your setup check list.

Also Gail, your RVs 12v lighting should still be operational for several hours following a grid power outage. Occupants should have no trouble getting out of the RV. The flashlights will be needed after you get out of range of your RVs lights.

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