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Tornados and Recreational Vehicles - An Unhealthy Mix

Spring time in Texas brings the Wildflowers and the Spring storms.   Being in the

RVs and tornadoes do not mix!

middle of Tornado Alley in an RV is always a concern.  I came across the following post on one of the RV forums I frequent and the author did a great job of covering the subject

Reprinted with the kind permission of  Wade at Openradios.net

Preparedness, that is knowing what is going on as far as severe weather is concerned, and then having a plan, is the key. While this post addresses tornado events, the same measures should be considered for severe thunderstorm activity where high winds, hail and lightning pose a significant hazard.



1. Be prepared.

Know where the closest shelter is, even if that is only a ditch. (Of course the ditch is a last resort, not a first choice.) When checking in to a camp ground, ask where the storm shelter is located. Try to get somewhere under ground, like in a basement. Know where you would go, just as you learn the exits in a hotel or airplane. When you head for the shelter take your shoes and a pillow to cover your head. Get in the center of a substantial building, away from windows.

If I ran a campground, I’d have a shelter area which would also be the laundry/game room/vending area. Most tornado deaths are from impact with flying debris like lumber, so a structure with substantial, thick walls is what you need to hide in. This is why you move to the center of the house when at home. Put as much wall as you can between you and flying debris.

2. Be informed.

Major storm systems are predicted days in advance, although specific damage events are predicted only minutes ahead. Get a Weather Radio. Get the kind with SAME technology.

3. In the event of a tornado abandon your trailer AND your tow vehicle. I saw the reports where tornadoes blew a freight train off its tracks. (My physics major son reports to me that it only takes a sudden 10% pressure differential to tip over a railroad car.) If parked in the campground, run to a shelter. If riding down the road, stop, abandon the rig and get in a ditch, well away from the RV. Your rig/tow will become airborne and get smashed. Your job is to survive and call the insurance company.

On edit: Somebody always wants to argue that a Class A is safer in a storm than a ditch. “Why trade something for nothing” they say. Well, I have never seen a ditch rolled over and wrapped around a tree.

A note here: Cars and trucks are good in earthquakes and lightning. But not tornadoes.

4. If traveling on the open road DO NOT seek shelter under a highway overpass.

There is a famous video where a family and a TV crew get trapped under a bridge. They were lucky, not smart, in that the bridge had exposed girders to hide between; however most modern bridges do not. Also the bridge creates a venturi effect such that the wind under the bridge is faster than the wind going over it.

If you watch this video closely you will see a tiny black dot bouncing around in the background, a ways down the road. The ‘dot’ is a minivan and its occupant does not survive being repeatedly dropped from altitude by the tornado.

A bridge might offer protection from hail but not tornadoes. GO GET IN A DITCH AND JUST ACKNOWLEDGE THE FACT THE RIG IS TOAST! Yes, there will be water in the ditch. Sorry. The associated thunderstorm is going to get you wet anyway.

Out in the flatlands they chase storms because with unobstructed visibility they can see them coming for miles. Here in Georgia and most other places we have hills and tall trees that obscure the tornado until it’s on top of you. We don’t chase storms here. Don’t expect to see it (or hear it) coming. If you can hear it, it’s too late. Seek shelter once you have the warning.

Weather Alert Radio

From time to time there is discussion on the forum about receiving National Weather Service information via radio.(Weather Alert) The SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) technology was developed to give the public A FEW MINUTES warning, just enough time to run for cover. A prudent RVer will keep an ear out for bad weather while it is still several hours away, giving time to pack up and move out of harms way.

Weather Radios can be programmed with a State/County area identifier. (See NOAA web site listed below for your area identifier.) Most SAME radios can be left unprogrammed, and this will cause the radio to alarm on every alert message it receives whether it is for your area or not. The only requirement is to be tuned to the proper frequencies for the area you are in. Frequencies also available at NOAA web site.(The constant alarms given by an unprogrammed radio can either be interesting or annoying depending on how much of a weather buff you are. You can track the progress of the storm system by finding the counties on a map.)

Here are the 7 frequencies used by the NWS. (and Canada!) They can be programmed into any VHF scanner. The receiver in most scanners is superior to those in CB/WX radios and some cheaper WX radios. And better antennas are available for scanners as well. Also note these frequencies can be received by your VHF TV antenna that came with your rig.

1. 162.400

2. 162.425

3. 162.450

4. 162.475

5. 162.500

6. 162.525

7. 162.550

A regular scanner will not support SAME signaling. However, it will still receive the broadcasts allowing you to check the local forecast each day. Weather alert radios are available stand alone, or built into AM/FM radios, CBs, FRS and other devices. I recommend Radio Shack simply because there’s one on every corner and they keep weather radios in stock. One feature I look for is a radio that runs on 12VDC and comes with a 120 VAC wall wart power supply. Such a radio can be used with or without shore power.

More Weather Radio Info here:


and in Canada


Note that US and Canada use the exact same SAME radios and codes. Your WX receiver works in both countries.

Watches and Warnings

A watch means conditions are right for severe weather events to occur and you should be paying attention to events as they happen. (Gather the lawn chairs, fold up the awning, plan indoor meals)Know where the shelter is if you need it.

A warning means there is severe weather event in progress, a tornado sighted or other event is happening NOW and you should seek shelter NOW.

Also note the NWS alert system will be used to warn of other environmental problems such as evacuations due to chemical spills, terrorist attack or what ever.

Emergency Equipment

Your usual emergency equipment, flashlights, raincoats and shoes will suffice, but having them available quickly is important. I would not buy anything special to prepare for a tornado event. A first aid kit and some other emergency supplies could be kept in a small backpack and grabbed on your way out of the RV and taken to the shelter. In any case, a pillow to cover your head and shoes to protect your feet from broken glass and such is a bare minimum.

Also on edit and new for this edition: It would be a good idea to turn on all exterior lights, porch, patio and scare, as you leave the your rig and head for whatever shelter available. (Assuming you have the presence of mind to think about it )As the storm passes there is the probability commercial power will be lost. Any rig not totally destroyed would provide much needed light for rescuers and survivors. The campground will look a lot different after the funnel passes. Lights would be helpful.

Additional On-line Resources


From this site all the weather watches and warnings of any type, including snow and even fire, are available with just a few mouse clicks.

The National Weather Service provides realtime radar, satellite and warning information. You can find a feild office near you for local forecast information. The SAME area identifiers are available here. Also river and flooding information.


The Weather Channel of cable TV fame. Remember, only the NWS can issue official warning statements.


Hurricane Watch Net, for those in hurricane prone areas. The all in one source for hurricane data. Real Time Reporting.

I gained this little bit of knowledge from working net control on the Georgia Skywarn Net, a group of amateur radio operators (and others) who report observations to the National Weather Service during severe weather events. I have the privilege of relaying field reports to the meteorologists on the forecast floor in real time. This is a volunteer effort on my part as one of about 20 operators at WX4PTC, NWS Peachtree City, GA.

I have used this Midland Weather Radio on the Fish Bus for the last 3 years with good results. The SAME technology keeps it from squawking all the time unless it is a REAL threat. I love it.

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