I grew up in a tornado alley, and most of the time, it turned o.k. No problems.
But surviving a tornado in a campground is a whole different thing. No shelters or anything.
And this got me thinking about what I should do if I was looking at the worst-case scenario when I pull into a campground.
Now, if a tornado strikes while camping, I’d suggest you do the bathhouse or the camp office. But with some warning, a church, school, or any other sturdy building structure would be a great shelter location.
The bath house, especially made of concrete, is the safest shelter against a tornado while camping.
But surviving an actual tornado when camping is more than just dashing to the bathhouse.
I’ve encountered several tornadoes while camping, and I’m happy to share my experience and everything.
Where to Seek Shelter If a Tornado Strikes While Camping
Here’re some of the places you should seek tornado shelter when camping:
1) Bath House
If the tornado sirens go off, you should make a beeline for the bath house.
In most campgrounds, the bathhouses are concrete blocks, and some even have a basement under the clubhouses.
The bath houses are usually the safest places, though I’ve encountered some campgrounds where the clubhouse is locked at night.
Even then, very few bath houses are actually tornado-proof and might not be safe if a strong wind or slow-moving tornado strikes.
The basements also risk getting buried under collapsed floors, especially if the walls are high.
But here’s the thing, you’d be more secure in a bathhouse than in the open space, your RV, or any other location.
Plus, realize the chances of being in the direct path or the eye of the tornado is very low, so you shouldn’t let the fear of one detract you.
2) Storm shelters
Some campgrounds, especially those in tornado alleys, have designated storm shelters.
These are simply building designed to accommodate and shield the campers from the effects of storms, flash floods, extreme weather, and tornados.
The severe storm shelters are more robust, durable, and reinforced with steel bars to keep you safe even in the worst tornadoes.
3) Sturdy-looking structures
If you didn’t have much time to dash to the nearest bath house, the second best option would be sheltering in a shower house or any other sturdy-looking structure.
The laundry room or campground offices are some great options.
Find any sturdy structure that looks like it can survive getting hit by a tornado. It’ll keep you safe from the flying debris, wind, and rain.
If you’ve not scouted your campground for shelters ahead of time or are boondocking away from the convenience of shelter houses and bathhouses, look for a ditch.
Find any depression, a culvert, or the lowest area and just lay down flat and cover your head.
Generally, the lower you get in a tornado situation, the better.
It’s still a crap shoot. Tornadoes can be unpredictable and dangerous.
However, understand flying or falling debris is usually the main hazard in a tornado.
I’ve sheltered in a below-ground shelter area, and we had to dig through all the heavy tools, gear, and survival gear.
However, tornado winds are relatively manageable at ground level, and it helps with tornadic flying debris.
Your main job when lying on the ground is to get out of the way of flying debris blowing at 150+ mph. Your second job is covering your head while not getting blown away yourself.
5) Shopping Mall
Assuming you got the tornado warning signs in time, you can leave the campground and head to the nearest town.
However, you must be sure you can make your way to the town before the tornado gains on you.
A town has plenty of tornado shelter options, more than you could find in a campground. Plus, it’s much easier to get help in a town than in the CG.
Assuming you’re on the road and a tornado warning is issued, I’d suggest you get off the road and find shelter.
Tornadoes never come out of the blue, so there’s always plenty of warning.
Watch the weather, and once you get the first warning, get off the road and find a shelter.
While at it, don’t make the mistake of sheltering under an overpass.
Overpasses are death traps. The high wind from a tornado can create a wind tunnel effect when blowing under an overpass. It’s called the venturi effect.
The effect causes debris to get thrown right through the tunnel at dangerously high speeds and may hurt anyone under the bridge.
Plus, the tornado can be so powerful that it may even collapse the bright, hurting anyone below.
I think driving perpendicularly to the weather movement will help you get out of the tornado’s way.
But that’s not possible on Interstate roads.
So, the best option would be ideal to get off the road immediately before the tornado builds up and catches up on you and find a tornado safety shelter.
7) Have Insurance and Get Creative
If push comes to shove, get creative, and find a shelter to keep you from the tornado.
I remember I’ve sat out in storms tucked against the Walmart building. Another time, I parked my RV under a gas station awning as it was the best course of action on such short notice.
My RV was damaged from the hail, but I had a good insurance cover.
In short, the idea of surviving a tornado is not in an open space or field. If you’re already in a shelter firmly affixed to the ground, don’t leave.
Consider leaving if you live in a mobile home, motor home, houseboat, RV, etc.
What You Shouldn’t Do When a Tornado Hits While Camping
There’re a couple of things you shouldn’t do when a tornado strikes when camping.
We’ve already discussed some don’ts, including how you should never leave your home or even try to shelter under an overpass.
Don’t Outrun a Tornado
If you’re car camping, it’s easy to think you can outrun a tornado. It’s quite tempting to do so.
However, most tornadoes are faster than your car. Some can reach up to 70mph, though most are in the 30-40mph range.
Trying to outrun one might seem like a great idea, especially if you’re on the highway, but remember you’ve to deal with corners, traffic, bad roads, and bad weather that will ultimately slow you down.
Plus, if you’re already close to it, you’re probably in the middle of objects such as cars, houses, and tree branches. Anything can fall on you.
If you also try to move out of its way, you’ll have difficulty predicting where it’s going.
Tornadoes are unpredictable and will change directions and jump around. So, even if you manage to outrun it and get out of its way, there’s a chance it might come to a sudden stop; make a 90-degree turn towards your direction.
And in the unfortunate event a tornado hits your car; you’ll be caught in flying debris. It’s like being in a shooting range on a machine practice day, only that trees, tree branches, and other cars are thrown in the mix.
Your car won’t offer much protection if any.
Finally, it’s much harder to determine which direction a tornado will shift when driving. If you’re in the middle of it, you could drive straight into its eye and not realize until it’s too late.
Don’t Shelter in your RV or Moto Home.
I’m surprised to see many campers making the mistake of staying in their rig during tornadoes.
After riding a storm in our moto home, I can tell you an RV is the last place to consider sheltering in case of a tornado.
First, the vacuum from the tornado sucks all the doors shut to the point of not being able to open your trailer.
And if the tornado is strong enough, it can lift off and swing around your trailer like a ton of bricks.
Now, imagine getting slammed to the aluminum ground head-on.
On top of that, you can imagine everything else in the trailer, from propane tanks, cutlery, and electrical appliances falling like a deck of cards.
To say it’s a deadly and frightening experience would be an understatement.
I’ve seen folks put slides in and jacked up their RV during a storm. You would think they help to stabilize your RV, but they’re of no importance.
To this day, I don’t need anyone to tell me to leave my trailer park when there’s a tornado.
Tips for Surviving a Tornado while Camping
Everything Starts with Planning
A problem with tornadoes is you get a little warning for preparation.
So, it’s worth preparing, especially if you’re camping in a tornado country.
When traveling, watch out for what looks like tornado trouble, and if you spot it in time, find a spot to shelter, ideally near a strong structure.
If you’re camping with kids, ensure they understand and know how to use the emergency exits and are aware of what to do if shit happens.
Have a Weather Radio
I have lived in Dallas for a couple of years, and the weather can get ugly here.
So, when I’m in this part of the US, I usually turn on my weather radio and listen to the weather messages getting repeated.
I also make a habit of setting alarms for water advisories.
It also helps to look around where I’ll shelter if a big storm hits.
Choose RV Park
When choosing an RV park, I consider whether they’ve storm shelter facilities.
While some of the RV parks have storm shelters, some don’t, so it’s best to ask when you check-in.
I remember when we checked at a small overnight RV park, and upon inquiring about the tornado evacuation procedures, the attendant informed us that everyone gets in their truck and leaves to the nearby overpasses.
So, if there’re speculations of a tornado or bad weather, I’d advise that you get selective on the RV park.
Pick one with the laid ground rules of sheltering and, more importantly, one with a storm shelter.
Be Ready to Move
If there’s a tornado forecast, I like to keep an eye on it while having everything packed and ready for a move.
I usually start high-tailing my moto home, have all the slides in, jacks up, utilities unhooked, and the windows shut. It helps so that you can get to your shelter fast as possible.
In the RV, we also make a habit of keeping things that we may need n a hurry in a bucket, saving us the need to search for them.
Some essentials we include are meds, cell phones, flashlights, keys, a sleeping bag, and money.
If you’re traveling across the border, it also helps to have your passport in the box.
Some water bottles and granola bars are also important.
I’ve prepared several times for tornadoes. It has been a scary experience, but I’m fortunate enough to have some training in meteorology.
My skills come in handy in keeping track of the minute-by-minute weather information while camping.
I make a habit of camping in locations with Wi-Fi connectivity, so I can have access to weather data.
Plus, I usually set alerts for weather tornado warnings based on my location while monitoring the weather comparison of nearby locations.
In short, I always like to have situational awareness. Know where I’m, where the storm is, and where I could go in case it strikes.
And if I feel it’s going to hit me, I usually seek shelter or ride out.
Check for a Storm shelter
When checking in any park, especially in a tornado-prone area or during tornado season, I always ask for the direction of the storm shelter.
I also have an NOOA Radio, but I also inquire about the availability of local sirens.
How To Tell A Tornado Is Coming
Tornadoes can be scary, but here’s a good way to tell one is coming:
- You could check the weather. The presence of thunderstorms and heavy rainfall are some of the warning signs of a tornado
- It sounds like a freight train, and sometimes hail preceding it can indicate a tornado.
- If the sky turns brown from dirt and the debris starts falling from the sky.
- You can listen to the local weather alert system to learn about the presence of an incoming tornado
- Temperature fluctuations and a bow echo form on radar near your location
- Vegetation and smaller trees bending 90 degrees and whipping back and forth
- Horizontal rain
- The other traditional way to detect a tornado warning is if you’re watching TV and it starts to get a lot of static.
Of course, understand that some of these signs don’t necessarily mean a tornado will hit you. The signs are never isolated.
However, if there’re a couple of them, plus a strong tornado weather forecast, you should probably brace for one.
Pro tip: If you see a tornado that doesn’t seem like it’s moving sideways (left or right), that’s not quite the chance. Don’t stick around to find out because it might be coming directly at you.
Surviving a tornado and any natural disaster on a camping trip is all about preparation.
I’ve seen what it can do firsthand, so learning the basic survival shit is necessary.
Know where your bath house or storm safe shelter is from your campsite.
Also, identify the lowest ground around your site, and make an effort to listen to NOAA and other weather forecasts.
Plus, have situational awareness. Know your exact location and the nearest town, so it’s easy to pinpoint the storm from your direction.
And finally, always be ready to move.