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RV Safety: Navigating Tornado-Prone States and What to Do During a Tornado Warning

It’s no secret that tornadoes can be life-threatening. I personally grew up in Oklahoma and I have seen my fair share of destruction from these storms. That said, I don’t think RVers should skip over tornado-prone areas. Tornadoes don’t happen every day, and they shouldn’t keep people from experiencing all that this area of the country has to offer. Instead, I believe learning a bit about RV tornado safety and going in with an RV tornado emergency plan (in case one crops up in your area) is the way to do it!

Understanding Tornado Risks for RVers

First, it’s important to know that tornadoes are particularly dangerous to RVers because RVs are small, lightweight, and not rooted to the ground in any way. This makes them incredibly easy for a tornado or even a strong wind to pick up, tip over, or destroy. It also makes tornado safety in RVs super important. 

The first step to ensuring RV tornado safety? Learning where tornadoes tend to happen. 

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Tornado-Prone States

While tornadoes can crop up almost anywhere, the states listed below are considered tornado-prone:

  • Texas
  • Mississippi
  • Kanasa
  • Alabama
  • Louisiana
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Georgia
  • Oklahoma
  • Nebraska

The states above see the vast majority of the country’s tornadoes, especially during tornado season, which runs from April-June. Some of these states also see a second, less intense tornado season for the months of September-November.

If you’re headed to one of these states, you may also want to consider rescheduling your trip to be before or after tornado season if possible. If that isn’t an option, make sure you learn about RV tornado safety in tornado-prone areas by reading the next parts of this article. 

Preparation: Before Entering a Tornado-Prone Area

Not sure how to practice RV tornado safety? We recommend using all of the following RV emergency preparedness tips. 

Plan a Safe Route

When driving through tornado-prone states during tornado season, it’s best to stick to the main highways where there tend to be businesses that could offer shelter if need be. Driving in the morning and early afternoon is also a good idea, as tornadoes tend to develop later in the day. 

Know Where You Are

One of the best RV weather safety tips? Always, always know what particular county you are in —and what cities and towns are nearby— so you can track the tornado in relation to where you are. Tornado watches and warnings are issued on a county-by-county basis, so keeping track of which one you’re in is especially crucial. 

Pay Attention to the Weather

There are many ways to track the weather these days. We recommend downloading a couple of weather apps and setting up push notifications so your phone will alert you if a tornado is in your area. We also recommend listening to the radio or watching a weather livestream should the local conditions start looking dicey.

Finally, it is important to have a battery-operated weather radio (along with some replacement batteries) in case the power goes out. 

Put Together a Safety Kit

A “bug-out” bag is always a good thing to have for tornado safety in RVs, especially when driving in states that see a lot of tornados. This bag should include:

  • Battery-operated radio
  • Water bottles
  • Non-perishable food 
  • Formula, diapers, and/or pet food if necessary
  • Flashlights
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Tissues
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Important documents
  • Cash and extra credit card
  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • Phone
  • Cards, books, and/or games

During a Tornado Warning

Has the county you are in issued a tornado warning? It’s time to execute your RV tornado emergency plan. Here’s what you need to do to stay as safe as possible. 

The Difference Between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning

First, it’s crucial that you understand the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning

A tornado watch simply means the conditions are ripe for a tornado and that the pros are keeping an eye out for them. In this case, just keep paying attention to the weather and know where to go if a warning is issued. No further action is required. 

Tornado warnings are more urgent. A warning means a tornado has been spotted in the area and you need to practice RV tornado safety and seek shelter right away. 

What to Do in Case of a Tornado Warning

If your area is under a tornado warning, you will, as stated above, want to seek shelter immediately. Note that your RV will not shelter you from a tornado. 

Many campgrounds in tornado-prone states have tornado shelters for just this purpose. We recommend booking campgrounds with dedicated storm shelters when traveling through states that see a lot of tornado activity, especially if you will be there during the spring. Make sure you learn where the shelters are upon check-in, so you can go directly there without wasting any time as soon as a warning is issued. This is the very best way to ensure RV safety in tornado-prone areas. 

If no dedicated tornado shelter is available, the next best option is to head to a basement. Unfortunately, basements aren’t generally readily available at campgrounds, so you might need to look for a block-constructed building instead. Bathhouses tend to be made of cinder blocks and can fill this role nicely. 

Another option is to head to an interior room of a building, putting as many walls between you and the outside as possible, and avoiding windows. Hallways and closets are good for this.

Pet Preparedness: When traveling with pets, it’s essential to have a plan for their safety too. Ensure you have pet carriers, leashes, and harnesses readily accessible. In the event of a tornado warning, you’ll need to be able to secure and transport your pets quickly to a safe location. Consider keeping a small emergency kit for your pets as well, including food, water, and any necessary medications. This preparation ensures that the entire family, furry members included, can stay safe and calm during a storm.

If There is No Shelter in the Campground

If there is no suitable shelter in your campground and you have time to drive elsewhere before the tornado reaches you, you may have the option of heading to a public community shelter. 

The towns that have these usually use school buildings or government buildings. They tend to be relatively safe, but driving to get to one may or may not be. Generally, driving during a tornado warning is not recommended, but if it’s your only option for shelter, you will have to weigh the pros and cons based on the location of the tornado and how much time you have before it is expected to arrive. 

If You’re Driving

If you’re driving when the tornado warning strikes, the Weather Channel says to find a well-built truck stop, store, or rest stop. Pull over and run inside, putting as many walls between you and the outside as possible. Some rest stops in tornado-prone states have dedicated tornado shelters, and most businesses will have a procedure in place for when tornadoes strike. 

As a last resort, find a ditch or a culvert and lay flat in it. If possible, cover your head with pillows and blankets from your RV. 

Never stay in your RV during a tornado, never attempt to drive through a tornado, or park in an overpass during a tornado. 

After the Tornado: Safety and Assessment

In the unlikely event that your campground or RV park is hit by a tornado, the steps you take immediately after the storm passes do matter, and your RV tornado safety plan should extend to dealing with the aftermath. According to the National Weather Service, here’s what you should know. 

Keep Listening to the Weather

Before you do anything, you’ll want to listen to the weather forecast. It is possible for two tornadoes to crop up one right after the other. Additionally, heavy rain, hail, and strong winds could pass through the area again should another storm follow the first one. 

Contact Others

Once you’re sure the coast is clear, contact your loved ones to check in on them and inform them of your situation. 

What to Wear

Next, you’ll want to head outside to assess the situation. First, make sure you are wearing shoes. Long pants and long sleeves are also good to have if possible, as you never know what you might come across when walking through an affected site. 

What to Do

  • When you have the right clothes on, carefully head outdoors, making sure to watch out for debris that could be sharp. 
  • Look and listen for others who might have been hurt in the storm. If you come across someone who needs help, provide first aid and comfort, and contact emergency services. 
  • If you see downed power lines, contact emergency services. Do not go near the downed lines. 
  • Check on your RV and vehicle. If they are damaged, take plenty of photos from the outside. Never enter a damaged building or RV after a tornado.
  • Contact your insurance company soon after the event in order to file a claim. 

Personal Stories and Expert Advice

More crucial RV safety tips and firsthand storm experiences.

In one iRV2 thread discussing tornadoes while RVing, a meteorologist who specializes in severe weather and even worked as a storm chaser in Oklahoma chimed in with his two cents:

“Generally, in the part of the world you’re talking about, you can see the types of thunderstorms and cloud formations coming that are going to be tornadic,” he shared. “Wall clouds are easy to see. They look like bulldozers in the sky and represent strong winds many times. If the wall cloud is rotating, get the heck out of your coach and find a low place. (Ditch, culvert, as low as you can get.) You’re already in trouble, as a tornado can drop out of it at any point.”

He also added, “Drive in the mornings in severe-weather-prone areas. While severe weather can occur at all times, 11AM is a diurnal low, whereas 4-7 PM is a peak.”

Tornadoes are scary, there’s no doubt about that. However, as long as you know how to practice RV tornado safety and you go in prepared with a good RV tornado emergency plan, you should be able to tour the most tornado-prone areas of the country safely.

About the Author:

1 thought on “RV Safety: Navigating Tornado-Prone States and What to Do During a Tornado Warning”

  1. Just an observation. Both vehicles in your illustrations are driving on the “wrong” side of the road for the US or some countries in Europe, Australia, or Africa. If this is because of panic or fear, your readers should be reminded to flee a tornado with purposeful and respectful haste. Thanks


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