Tornado Warning Tips for RVers

On February 22nd, 2015, strong storms were forecast for our location in Gulf Shores, AL.  Let’s see how we stacked up against the storm:

Pregame for the Storm:

  • We are from Pennsylvania.  We have no experience with tornadoes.
  • We thought February was too early for tornadoes, and we didn’t really consider Alabama to be tornado alley.
  • We live in an RV, a fifth-wheel to be exact.
  • It would be after dark by the time the storms hit our area.

Pregame for Us:

  • We had plenty of warning, as tornadoes hit Louisiana earlier in the day.
  • Everyone took these storms more seriously than prior tornado watches: schools & businesses closed early, concerts & events were canceled, and one of our resort hosts even came around to each rv to make everyone aware of the situation and to be sure all outdoor items were stored safely.
  • Our rv resort’s bathrooms are storm shelter rated for 180 mph winds.
  • Due to the severity of the situation, we did pack a bag of important items in case the need would arise for a quick exit.

Let’s take a look at the blow-by-blow…

We had a Tornado Watch for most of the day, and as the evening set in, the storms were entering our area.  As the situation escalated, we decided to pack a few items in a bag and leave it by the door of our rv.  If and when we did decide to go to the storm shelter, we wanted some important items to be with us.  We just answered the following question:  if our rv gets wiped out, what essentials would we want with us as we sought help?  We packed our wallets, our passports, our cellphones and other important information.  I always have snack bars in our bag, and we originally packed our laptop as well (but would later remove it).  We also charged our phones.  We figured that if the time came, we wouldn’t have time to look for anything, so we wanted a bag to grab and be out the door if necessary. (1 point us)

The storm escalated and we received Tornado Warnings on our phones.  At this point, we took a few minutes to make our decision.  The wind did not seem that bad in comparison with other storms we have had here on the Gulf coast, but it was pouring down rain and the lightning was almost non-stop.  Due to the drenching rain, we decided to take our laptop out of our bag.  We also decided to seek more information online, and that is when we learned that a waterspout had been spotted directly of the shore of Gulf Shores. (2 points storm)

That was the turning point for us.  I had texted my Dad earlier that we had shelter available and we wouldn’t take any risks, so we didn’t.  We grabbed our bag, put on our raincoats and shoes, and headed across the street to the storm shelter.  We only had to cross the street, and yet we were completely drenched.  There were 6 inches of water on the entire street and our shoes were soaked through.  By this time, the storm began to change.  There were complete lulls in the wind, and then a blast of wind would come from the opposite direction than it had been blowing.  We had never experienced this type of wind behavior.  Apparently, that is indicative of a tornado. (1 point us, 1 point storm)

What can you expect at a storm shelter?  Well, expect other people and dogs.  Some had radios or tablets with them.  Everyone was soaked, including the dogs.  Everyone was glad to have a shelter to go to, and we were all in good spirits.  It was a much better way to spend the storm than worrying in our rv or, even worse, having a tornado strike when it was too late for us to make it to the shelter.   We waited until the warning expired, and then a little bit longer until the rain let up enough for us to make our move. (1 point us)

Who won the fight?  After the storm, we searched online for more information.  According to the Weather Channel, the waterspout came on land near us and lost its power in the process, as it traveled on land, it regained its strength, and that is the tornado that was so devastating in Pensacola, FL.  The storm did drive us to the storm shelter, which is a point for the storm.  But, by going to the shelter, we chose not to risk bodily harm by the storm, ultimately a win for us.

A video of our experience with some storm footage…

Hindsight & Tips:

If there is a tornado warning issued, follow the warning and seek shelter.  You will be glad you did.  You may think that you will see or hear it coming, but take it from me, at night time you will see nothing and the rain and thunder will already be so deafening in your rv that it would be too late to run to the shelter by the time you knew what was happening. I really can’t think of a worse home to be in during a tornado than an rv.  It is not safe.  What happened in the rv park in Louisiana with these same storms is proof.  If you know you are going to be in an area prone to tornadoes, make sure to ask the campground about a storm shelter before booking your stay.

Also, consider packing a bag.  This was the first time we packed one, and it was also the first time we had a tornado warning, not just a watch.  When I was looking at the news after Pensacola’s tornado, the evac shelter there for the affected people said to bring a change of clothes, toiletries, medication, and so many other items that I would not have thought of needing until this experience.  Remember, by the time Chris and I got to the shelter, we were soaked through even with raincoats on.  If the tornado had struck here, we would have been stuck in soaking wet clothing and shoes.  Make an informed decision and pack what you are comfortable with as necessary items for you.  Don’t forget to have your phone fully charged if possible and consider bringing a charger with you.

I hope our experience brings some helpful information to you, so you can enjoy your travels safely.

RVer Tips- What to do in a Tornado Warning

 

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