We are inadvertently winter camping through the Texas ice storms… and without warning. What’s even worse is that I did not follow my own advice in the article on freeze warnings and the water pipes in our motorhome froze and burst.
We went from almost 60 degrees to 19 degrees unexpectedly when traveling from Red Bay, Alabama, toward Arizona. What the heck?! It was 70 degrees in El Paso the last time I looked!
Ice storms in Texas
Texas winter storms are unlike anything we have seen in our home state of Minnesota. What is with all this ice? Where is the deluge of snow and the snowplows and sand the next day? Everything is bigger in Texas. That goes for the ice too. Accumulation was the common word on all the weather reports. Accumulation of 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch reads like a snow depth report. My husband pulled our motorhome off the road yesterday in Abilene amid freezing rain and after seeing several semi trucks rolled on their sides.
Effects of a winter ice storm on a motorhome
Besides the ice accumulation on the windshield, the first sign that we were neither in Arizona nor Minnesota anymore was the fact that the slides wouldn’t go out. The slide awnings were stuck together with the freezing rain. We could put them partway out but the awnings were stronger than the hydraulic slides, so we left them as far as they would go without tearing. All of a sudden there was a loud boom and one of the awnings let loose and the long, heavy kitchen slide dropped into position. The living room slide went out the following day when enough heat loss from the inside melted the ice on the awning.
Despite my foreboding, I tried the satellite dish. It promptly froze halfway up and flashed “SK stalled motor.” A quick call to Winegard confirmed that it wasn’t going anywhere. The motor was toast and they don’t make them anymore. I was invited to buy a whole new satellite system. The helpful customer service agent also sent an email with how to manually let it down from the skating rink on the roof. Never giving up, I plugged the receiver in and out, pressed every button there was and it finally went down. Upside down, but closed enough to get under a bridge.
We did not hook up the water or sewer. There was a big warning on a sign as we drove in that read “Drop water hoses or else.” We put a honey barrel warming pad in the wet bay and were glad we had over 60% fresh water filled. All is good.
Surprisingly, the 50-amp service worked, despite weather warnings of power outages. So our two electric heaters along with the fireplace and the furnace brought the temp up to a not-very-hot 66 degrees. The only issue with running the furnaces is that the propane was under 50 percent full and we hadn’t wanted to take the time to fill it at the last RV park.
I should have listened to my own advice
Soooo, this is where I should have listened to my own advice. I tried to conserve the propane and only ran the furnace late evening and morning, when I should have run it all night. In the morning? No water. Cranked up the furnace and all seemed well again until, well, it wasn’t.
I turned the water pump on and off yet… still no water. I checked out the water bay and the honey barrel pad was warm, the water pump was pumping away and the wet bay was filled with water with a layer of ice underneath. But I have not figured out which pipe has burst and where it is coming from—I just know where it is not going.
We have hauled a 5-gallon water jug in one motorhome after another for more than 32 years. Although it was deep in the belly of the beast, I donned boots, two coats, gloves and a hat and dragged everything out to retrieve it. My husband uses the excuse that he is too big to crawl under the slide and into the bay. After crawling in, I agreed.
The water jug actually brought a smile to my face. We had rented a motorhome for our honeymoon. It came with no instructions, we didn’t know to turn on a switch to start the water pump, so we had no water and bought a five-gallon jug.
At least propane delivery was on the way to fill the tank… until it wasn’t. All the trucks have been pulled from all the delivery services after propane truck after truck went off the road. I understood.
I crept 2.6 miles in our toad to a grocery store so slowly that I never had to actually brake until the store parking lot. It was brutal. Shuffled across the parking lot. At my age, if I fall, I break.
At least the Texas ice storms have made national news—every TV channel is showing the winter storm warning and the cars sliding in slow motion across the highways into other cars. Sadly, there have been several deaths due to the storms. My sister is sending me texts about the danger of the storm.
So, I’m not too old to learn (and not so experienced as to not make some huge mistakes in the process):
- Be aware of all weather predictions, not just wind.
- Fill your propane when dropping below 50 percent in winter.
- Keep water in fresh water tank, and have room in gray and black tanks.
- Carry at least a gallon of RV antifreeze to pour into the holding tanks and down traps.
- Keep wet bays warm and run the furnace overnight if needed.
- If temps warm during day, bring slides in and out to drain any water that my refreeze
- Use heated hose if campground faucet is insulated.
- Remove and empty water from external water filters to avoid cracking canisters.
- Be prepared to winterize RV in an emergency.
And about my secret desire to try winter camping? I am so over it!
I agree with many of the comments, but the most important comment that Nanci made was “Watch the weather forecast!” Glad you recovered and were safe!
Winter camping in every RV takes being prepared. Remember while driving nothing is running in your vehicle including the furnace and the smallest water pipes will freeze & most likely break.
Ice Storms are also normal in Texas, especially north of Houston, by the way ice often happens there. The plains of North America often have wind chills well below daily high temperatures.
If I drive my vehicle in winter it is always Winterized for all devices protection and it is a four season device.
What happened to this author & RV wasn’t usual for winter use of portable living quarters but push-outs and all moving parts of an RV aren’t usable when frozen. Maybe the key to all RV movable parts in winter aren’t usable so getting use to using the RV Parks facilities is important.
I would add be careful about putting slides out in icy weather. You may not get them back in when needed.
Those Texas ice storms sound brutal! Living in Utah, we dry camp often in freezing temps. However, snow is a lot easier to deal with than ice. I think the more you do it, the more you learn, and we’ve learned a lot over the years! The main thing we do is make sure the propane is full, set the heater to 60 degrees at night so it will heat the underbelly, open the cabinet doors under the sinks & keep the water heater on. My Mr. Buddy heater helps a lot in the morning as well as putting a kettle on the stove to boil water to heat up the trailer. If you have an electric hook-up, then an electric space heater can keep things toasty. Either way, we never hook up to water and always use the fresh tank and water pump as well as bringing extra jugs of water in case something freezes. We’ve still had things freeze, though, especially when dry camping. But there’s nothing better than sitting in our cozy trailer after a long hike or day of skiing & watching the snow fall.
Welcome to my world.During the 2021 Texas Snowpocalypse I didn’t even try very hard. I knew what was coming. I was full time then and only prayed for no broken pipes or tanks (which I had at least emptied). The trailer froze up like a rock. Propane was almost impossible to get since the rolling electrical blackouts disabled the big tank pumps. After driving down the 6″ deep snow covered road, I had to wait outside for an hour for the power to come back on (so I wouldn’t lose my place in line); and then wait another hour with my three 20 lb. tanks in 10 degree weather, just hoping the 500 gallon tank still had propane when it was my turn. Oh, did I mention I’m a double below knee amputee? There were at least 30 cars lined up for propane on the road outside. Lost all fresh water hoses and my water pressure regulator but was lucky with electricity and got the propane. But the pex held and I counted my lucky stars overall. So much more but that’s enough.
Thanks Nanci .. A lot of those with 20/20 hindsight love to try to put others down but in my 40 years of RVing (down to -21°f in Butte MT, up to 115° near Guadalajara) I still feel I can learn something or enjoy an empathetic chuckle reading someone’s story.
The BIG LESSON here is: DON”T travel in the icy winter months!!!!
There are lots of full timers who don’t have that choice. Also, as retirees we love traveling in winter when campgrounds and recreation areas aren’t as busy. Winter camping isn’t for everyone, but it’s quite doable if you make good choices. Nanci attributes her bad experience to complacency, and that’s the lesson here. You have to stay on top of the weather and be ready for anything, especially as climate change continues to cause more severe weather events. Extreme heat and wildfires actually concern me more than cold. Also flooding. Recently campers at a state park near Tucson of all places were stranded for several days when the only road into the park became a raging river after a torrential rainstorm. Camping is supposed to be an adventure, but it can also become a disaster if you aren’t vigilant. Any time of year.
Wow. Guess I can quit reading YOUR articles. We’re from Missouri. We’ve been through this type of weather while on the road. Always was prepared, never had a problem.
So sorry this happened in our normally warm and friendly state! Texas doesn’t have winter often but when it does look out!
Our ice is treacherous and we lack equipment and supplies to take care of it. Hope you come back for another visit and a better experience!
And we get at least one ice storm a year here in Texas. Always look ahead.
Been there done that. Got stuck in WA where it was 4 at night and warmed up to 14 in the daytime. We had full water, empty tanks but had the slides out. That was the mistake as the toppers had a 6″ layer of ice stuck on top. It wasn’t fun getting that stuff off. Lesson learned, if it is snowing or freezing rain, the slides come in.
RV winter survival (cont)
DON’T drip your water, DO run your propane furnace but a few degrees lower on the thermostat. AC is cheaper than propane, but above floor space heat does not warm pipes below floor. Don’t leave your waste gates open as you will just freeze your waste line. Keep a few gallon jugs of water handy for the toilet and emergency use. And the biggest hint of all- don’t be afraid to let neighbors know of your situation before it becomes an emergency! Most RVers will try to help out however they can to avoid your situation from becoming an emergency.
Thanks for your comment Jim. I have eliminated the line about dripping water from faucet. Our RV neighbors had good luck dripping water from their faucets into buckets but just for everyone’s safety I took it out.
We winter in south-central Texas (Hill Country) and have been here for both the 2021 fiasco and the ongoing 2023 version.
Both times, the folks in this RV park fared much better than most residents of stick & brick homes. 1st rookie mistake: ‘I have a heated water hose’. Sure, but did you also heat EVERY inch from the ground into your rig? And what if the AC power goes out? – – put water in your internal tank. 2nd rookie mistake: do you have a means of using an external propane tank on your internal tank motor coach? There will times you can’t safely get propane into your tanks. Bring a tank to your rig; even a BBQ grill tank can save more than your bacon.3rd rookie mistake: your critical systems run off 12v. But without AC power those batteries may not last long in freeze conditions. With a trailer, you can back your tow vehicle up to your rig, plug in your 7 pin plug and idle your engine to slowly recharge your trailer deep-cycle battery. More…
Yikes! I do hope you can get everything fixed after you escape the clutches of the Ice Storm. Oh, and I also hope you can get to Arizona soon. My goodness, so much damage. 🙁
I do not recommend letting the faucet drip in a RV. The drain line can freeze and water will back up into the sink. This happened to me. Woke up and stepped into very cold water.
Thanks, I have eliminated the line about dripping water from faucet. Our RV neighbors had good luck dripping water from their faucets into buckets but just for everyone’s safety I took it out.
Nanci, Nanci, Nanci everything you did or didn’t do I would expect from a Newbie and not from an experienced RVer.
Unfortunately although I am very experienced at RVing even in temps at minus 10 degrees got terribly complacent after wintering in AZ for the last eight years. Big Oops
I have been reading the newsletter wishing We cd afford to travel in an RV rather than tent camp. After reading article – the desire has passed. debacle I no longer want on any level to buy one of these motor ‘ homes ‘🙃!
Don’t let this one story keep you from acquiring an rv. Let’s just say mistakes were made that caused problems that could have been avoided. Also, if you don’t camp in freezing weather you won’t have to deal with any of this. We tent camped for years until I finally said this is more work than fun and I’m not doing it anymore. We got a pop-up and loved it, but eventually upgraded to a small travel trailer to have a bathroom. Years later and retired, we now have a 30′ travel trailer that is fully winter capable (very few actually are despite what they claim), and we carry a generator. We still keep a very close eye on the weather, and we’ve changed our plans many times to avoid being in the path of a storm. It would have been hard to avoid the ice storm entirely, but it would have been possible to be set up, stocked up, and battened down before it hit. It was forecast days ahead of time.
Once again, don’t give up on rv ownership just because one person had a bad experience. Personally, I strongly prefer travel trailers to motor homes because you don’t have to tow a second motor vehicle to be able to get around once you’ve set up at a campground. Also, if you already own a vehicle capable of towing, travel trailers are much cheaper than motor homes.
We fortunately escaped the ice storm as we were past our 3 day visit to see our son & family in New Braunfels (moved from 30 min away from us, to 1500 miles 🙁 , when the storm hit. There was a severe thunderstorm the day after we left. We stayed put. So dodged that. People ask why we don’t take 40. Because we stay as low as we can during our winter trip and take 10 across. Even then as evident by this storm, weather happens. Use the Drive weather app that forecasts out to 7 days the route you input. Going to subscribe to Ryan Hall right now. Thank you Bob P.
And…we are so thankful we have a motorhome that is fully functional with the slides in. Although someone (not me :-)) has to climb out if they need to get up in middle of the night. Never open the front slide unless we are staying 3+ days.
I’m sorry to hear you had such a hard time, an expensive experience for sure. We were in the TX freeze of 2021, 10 days! It was brutal. We faired much better than a number of folks we talked with, but we leave OH in winter and return in spring, which means we may need antifreeze on the return end. We learned a lot in those 10 days. Your words of wisdom ring true!
I think any more if you are camping November-March anywhere in the USA be prepared for anything. If you need propane, water, gasoline and antifreeze so does everyone else.
If your on the move, and ice is predicted bring all slides in that you possibly can. It will take hours for a thin glaze to melt if the sun is on it. If your staying put for a few days, no problem.
Dollar stores still sell incandescent bulbs.
I will give you a hint, on YouTube there is a very qualified meteorologist named Ryan Hall, he warned of this ice storm for TX all the way up into TN 5 days ago. He gives forecasts for the entire nation any time there is a storm coming. You can subscribe to his channel and get notified anytime bad weather is on the way. He’s way better than the weather channel. His channel is Ryan Hall Y’all.
Totally agree with your post about Ryan Hall Y’all! He uses different weather models, not just the National Weather Service so you can draw you own conclusions from his posts. He is my go to for traveling now, even if it’s not in my rv. Highly recommend him. ps he had this storm called days ago
I doubly totally agree. That young man and his storm chasers know their stuff. His infectious enthusiasm and thorough analysis will provide you with forward, vital, detailed, local information regarding any upcoming storm, anywhere in the continental US. And he will do so as it tracks all the way across the US.
Good to know. Thanks!
Oh, what memories this will make! The wife and I had the same experience IN ABILENE of all places. At the State Park just out of town the February temp dropped to 18 degrees. Water hose froze, propane about ran out, and when time to leave, the truck wouldn’t start. I cranked on it until the starter failed. After a tow to town the good folks at the repair shop told me the rats had chewed the wiring. A whole new electrical harness and starter, along with the tow cost us $850. The park rangers were great and let us extend our stay for another night in the same campsite since there weren’t too many other campers wanting our spot. HA ha now, but then it was trauma.