By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Tornadoes and RVs don’t mix. This sad reminder comes from Miller, South Dakota, where an affable 73-year old motorhome driver met the end of his life when a tornado blasted his rig off the road. The ill-fated meetup took place last Saturday, August 30.

Accounts say Paul Nelson, of Gettysburg, South Dakota, was north of the east-central South Dakota town shortly after 6:00 p.m. Traveling state Route 45, Nelson was driving his motorhome south and towing a vehicle trailer with a small car on board. In what was apparently a sudden and unexpected action, a tornado touched down and crossed the highway, traveling from east to west. It ripped the car trailer loose from the motorhome, then blasted Paul Nelson’s rig off the highway. Nelson died when the motorhome was left wheels-up in a field some 150 yards or so off the pavement.

No warning

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Tornadoes and RVs don’t have a good association together. It’s not uncommon to hear of a twister blasting through an RV park or campground and raising havoc and destruction. In many of those instances, RV owners are able to take shelter before the storm impacts. Unfortunately, Nelson had no warning. While bad weather was forecast for the area, there were no actual tornado warnings in place at the time of the encounter. Nelson makes for a sad statistic: His was the first death caused by a twister in South Dakota since 1999.

Paul Nelson was something of a local celebrity. He had founded, built and operated a hunting lodge called Paul Nelson Farm. That venue was frequented by big names, including those of Dick Cheney, the former vice president, and another man from the “other side of the street” – Tom Brokaw, the former NBC television news anchor. Reaction in Nelson’s hometown was swift, many mourning his unexpected death. You can read his obituary here.

Find shelter even without a funnel cloud

The National Weather Service says it is investigating both the tornado and the lack of warning to the locals. A spokesman for the service said that Nelson’s death was regrettable. The agency will be evaluating what more might be done in the future to enhance the safety of residents and visitors in times of future bad weather. He noted, too, that tornadoes are tricky things to predict. A big thunderstorm can turn into a tornado in very short order. Since tornadoes and RVs aren’t a good mix, RVers are well cautioned to keep an eye on the weather. In tornado country, a thunderstorm could mean death is not far behind, and finding shelter immediately is good advice.

Related:

RVer Safety: Be prepared for a tornado
Could improving RV park safety standards prevent tornado damage? 
And keep our ever-expanding list of RV parks (and other locations) with storm shelters handy.

Photo credit: August 30, 2020 tornado near Miller, S.D. courtesy NWS Franklin on twitter.com

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