Tornado Preparedness for RVers

Tips for staying safe if you are camping in a tornado region

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If you are planning on RVing or camping in a tornado region there is basic tips and information you should know before you go, straight from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The United States averages 1,200 tornados a year, according to NOAA. Doppler radar has improved the ability to forecast tornados, but still only gives a warning of three to 30 minutes. With such little forewarning, NOAA stresses that tornado preparedness is critical.

Tornado Warning Systems

If you are RVing near a small town, chances are there is a siren system that can be heard for several miles. Take a moment when you first arrive at your RV park to find out about the tornado and storm warning systems for your area, even if you are staying only a short time. 

Tornado Shelters

Find out if your park has a shelter onsite or where the nearest shelter is located. Basements and underground shelters are the safest, but small, sturdy inside rooms and hallways provide adequate protection during a tornado, as well.

If there is no shelter onsite, alternatives might be the park’s shower or bathroom stalls. If there is a sturdy building with closets or an inside hallway try to take shelter there. If none of these exist drive to the nearest shelter as quickly as is safe. Keep your seatbelt on. 

Tornado Preparedness Plan

NOAA’s and the American Red Cross’ recommended actions include:

  • Monitoring a NOAA Weather Radio
  • Know where to go for shelter, preferably within walking distance
  • Be ready to go when a tornado watch is issued
  • Remove lawn furniture and other objects that could become projectiles to an inside location
  • Go immediately when a tornado warning is issued
  • Wherever you find shelter stay away from windows
  • Do not plan on staying inside your RV
  • Bring your pets, if allowed, in a carrier
  • Grab only essentials (purse, ID, cash) and only if easily accessible
  • Don’t waste time searching for anything
  • Practice your tornado drill periodically

Signs of Potential Tornado 

  • Electrical charge in the air -- hair on arms standing up (not always present)
  • Large hail
  • Lightning
  • Roaring noise
  • Grayish/greenish clouds
  • Visibly rotating clouds
  • Wall cloud that appears as thunderclouds dropping close to the ground
  • Cloud progressively extending down to ground, increasingly funnel-shaped
  • Rotating dust or debris rising up from the ground, often "reaching" towards a descending funnel-shaped cloud

Inland and Plains Tornados

Tornados that develop on the plains and most parts of the country often are accompanied by hail or lightning. These warning signs are your signals to seek shelter until the storm passes. We tend to think of tornados as “approaching” from some distance. Bear in mind that every tornado begins somewhere. If that “somewhere” is close to you, you won’t have much time to get to a shelter.

Tornados can develop during the day or night. Naturally, nighttime tornados are the most frightening since you may not be able to see them coming, or might be asleep when they hit. 

Tornados Spawned by Hurricanes

Unlike inland tornados spawned from storms, those that develop in hurricanes often do so in the absence of hail and lightning. They can also develop days after a hurricane makes landfall, but tend to develop during the daytime after the first few hours over land. 

Although tornados can develop in the hurricane’s rainbands, far from the eye or center of the storm, they are most likely to develop in the right front quadrant of the hurricane. If you know where you are in relation to the hurricane’s eye and sections, you have a better chance of avoiding tornados. 

Obviously, evacuating before the hurricane makes landfall is the best choice you can make but isn’t always possible. Many situations can prevent you from getting as far away as you’d like, if at all. Running out of gas or diesel might be one of them.

Fujita Scale (F-Scale)

Have you wondered what the term “F-Scale” means, as in a tornado rated F3? Well, it’s a rather unusual concept, since most of us expect ratings to be derived from direct measurements. The F-Scale ratings are wind speed estimates based upon three-second gusts at the point of damage, rather than wind speed measurements.

Originally developed by Dr. Theodore Fujita in 1971, NOAA placed the Enhanced F-Scale in use in 2007 as an update to the original F-Scale. Based on this scale tornados are rated as follows:

EF Rating = 3 Second Gust in mph

0 = 65-85 mph
1 = 86-110 mph
2 = 111-135 mph
3 = 136-165 mph
4 = 166-200 mph
5 = Over 200 mph

Other Emergency Plans

Check out RV plans for emergencies of all types with links for just about any weather or natural disaster you're likely to run into. More information about tornadoes.

Updated and edited by Monica Prelle