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.
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.
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.
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