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Your RV isn’t safe in a tornado. How to be prepared in case of a last-minute warning

A year ago around this time, the Weather Emergency Alert alarm sounded on my phone. I opened it to see a message that I never wanted to see: Emergency Alert National Weather Service: TORNADO WARNING in this area until 5:30 PM CST. 

It all happened in less than two minutes. After that, no sound, no wind, no shaking. We just felt a sense of relief in that we had, in fact, just lived through a tornado.

We were staying at an RV park in Custer, South Dakota. Our park neighbor had just unhooked and began to set up when the weather turned nasty. That is when the alarm sounded. We had only minutes to decide our course of action. That was not nearly long enough. 

At first, the trailer began to sway. Then, it seemed as if a giant hand had grabbed it and began shaking us. We had to yell over the sound of the violent wind. We ran to the bedroom and I pulled the mattress over us, aware of the small protection that it offered. 

To everyone’s good fortune we suffered no injuries. Only two trailers were moderately damaged. One unlucky neighbor had a pine tree laying over the hood of his new Ford truck. Trees lay scattered across the campground. Ruptured water lines shot streams into the air. Neighbors went from site to site checking on one another. We were all very lucky.

So, how does one plan and prepare for a tornado?

Prepare an emergency kit

Fill it with items that are essential to you, like medications. Place copies of your medical alert cards, driver’s licenses, and insurance cards inside a water-proof container. Always have a flashlight, extra batteries, and a small first aid kit. Include a whistle to alert people of your location, just in case.

Have an emergency plan

When you arrive at the park, ask if they have a designated emergency shelter area and where it is. If the attendant gives you a funny look and says, “We don’t have one”, find it on your own. It could be the on-premise restrooms or laundry.

Here’s a list of RV parks with storm shelters.

Stay weather alert

Monitor the local media if bad weather is imminent. Keep your cell phone charged to receive news and alerts. You might even drop an extra phone charger in your kit.

Move quickly

If you receive a tornado watch alert from the Storm Prediction Center, heed it. Time is not on your side. Grab your emergency kit and the pets. Leave your RV and go to as strong a shelter as is available. Once there, get into an interior room, or shower stall, and hunker down. Keep away from windows and exterior doors.

Do not stay in your RV or your vehicle; neither offers security.  After all, they are merely thin-shelled, lightweight movable objects offering no protection from storm winds and flying debris. 

After the storm passes, be aware

Watch out for downed electrical lines, seemingly dangerous leaning trees, hanging limbs, and fallen debris. Check on your neighbors, as someone may need your help.

I know that this all sounds ominous. Just remember, Preparation, Information, and Quick Action are keys to your survival. For more information visit the NOAA National Weather Service site.

##RVT1052

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Sharon N.
9 days ago

When you arrive at a campground, in addition to asking about storm shelters, find out what county, and what part of the county, you are in, as that’s how watches and warnings are issued. That’s also what you need to know to program your weather radio.

The article talks about a “tornado watch alert”. That just means weather conditions in your area may produce a tornado, not that one has been sighted or is radar indicated. A watch like that may exist for hours. Be on alert, and watchful. If conditions look threatening, go to the shelter.

A “tornado warning” is different. This is when you have to take action immediately! It means a tornado has been sighted, or radar indicates a tornado may drop from the sky at any moment. If you aren’t already in a safe place, get there! You may have only minutes of warning.

Steve Heye
10 days ago

At home or on the RV trail, if it’s tornado season have a sports helmet nearby to put on your head when you hunker down. That helmet will keep your noggin protected from flying debris like 2x4s and tree branches. Cheap insurance for your most important part.

wanderer
10 days ago

These warnings are common in the South and Tornado Alley, and a good reason to tune in the LOCAL weather channel at least once a day, and have a weather app on a phone or pad. So many people are clueless of approaching storms.

Be sure your generator has fuel, and that your devices are charged up in case of an extended power line failure.

Find a substantial building, usually laundry or shower houses are your only choice. Take folding chairs, your wallet, devices, a flashlight and poncho, and go sit in that safe place, even if your neighbors think you are being overcautious. Take a book or something to amuse you, toys for kids. Often you meet nice fellow campers. Do not return to your camper until the warning is cancelled.

And, to campground managers, particularly public ones; why in the living heck do you ALWAYS collect our phone numbers and NEVER use them to warn people? Shame on you.