Friday, June 25, 2010


Storm clouds gathering.We’ve had our share of bad weather this spring, but reading Outside Our Bubble’s post describing their recent brush with a tornado (on the same night we had severe weather in Ohio) reminded me of our first similar event, during our first year of travel.  Hearing the tornado siren gets your attention! 

On June 24, 2003, three months into our new lives as full time RV’ers, Odel and I camped at the fairgrounds in Sioux Falls, SD.  That day came to be known in South Dakota as “Tornado Tuesday”, when 67 tornadoes were reported in southeastern and central South Dakota, tying what was at that time the record for the most tornado touchdowns in a single day for one state (which has since been surpassed, in Kansas).  We heard tornado sirens 3 times, and went to the shelter 4 times that night.  For Californians, it was a shocking eye opener about the true meaning of “heavy weather”!

Over the years, we have developed a plan for dealing with heavy weather.  Here is what we do – and have – for those infrequent, scary times when weather threatens us.

Tornado Shelter sign over the restrooom doors at Camping WorldFirst, when checking into our campground, we ask where we should shelter in the case of bad weather.  Once we set up, we check this building out and make sure we know how we would get there.

Next, we check a map to find out which county we’re in, and the names of surrounding counties.  Weather watches and warnings are given by county, so we need to know the name of ours – and we feel more comfortable if we know those around us, too.

We make sure our NOAA weather radio is receiving a signal and stocked with fresh batteries (ours runs on both 110 v and battery power).  I tune it to the local channel (ours tunes automatically when I push a button).  The blaring is an annoyance, but it will awaken us from a sound sleep, giving the warning we need if a tornado is on the way (it also alerts us while we are on the road).

I raise the TV antenna and find whatever local stations are available.  Satellite TV won’t help much with local weather conditions, especially once we lose the satellite signal as heavy storms develop! 

Doppler Radar on the Weather Channel on 6/24/2003. If a tornado watch is issued (meaning conditions are favorable for possible tornadoes), we prepare our “tornado bag”.  In this bag, we want the minimum amount of weight and bulk with the maximum ability to help us put our life back together if we step out of the shelter and find Scoopy demolished:

* Money, credit cards, and ID’s.

* Computer information, including all of our important logins/passwords.  These are saved on a password protected flash drive that we can plug into any computer, should ours be damaged or lost (another plug here for Roboform and Roboform2Go, the programs we use to manage our passwords and personal information).

*  A small, old-fashioned AM/FM, AA powered transistor radio – if a tornado comes though, this might be the easiest (or only way to get information.

* An AA powered flashlight.

* Cell phones chargers, both 110 v and 12 v., and cell phones - either in the bag or our pockets.

* Important prescription drugs.

* One laptop – the one with the longest battery life – and a power cord.  I also backup both computers to a small, lightweight external hard drive which goes into the bag.

* A couple of energy bars and a bottle of water.

* Extra AA batteries.

* UPDATE:  Oops, one thing I forgot to mention when I originally posted this – insurance cards, both for our health insurance (in our wallets) and for our rig (our Jeep is insured with the same company)!  Be sure you have the number for your insurer on the insurance card/information.

This fits in 2 bags, one for each of us, and they go on the seat by the door.

After the first storm passed; many more came after dark. If the weather at night seems okay, we put the bags by the door, put sturdy shoes and another flashlight nearby, and go to sleep (if we can) in comfortable clothes.  If the NOAA radio awakens us with a tornado warning, we can flip on the TV to a local station while we put on our shoes. 

If the weather is too iffy, we don’t go to bed, but stay awake monitoring the local TV reports and radar on the computer.  If lightening is striking in the area, we sometimes unplug and roll up our power cord so a nearby strike won’t fry our appliances (we should do this all the time, but tend not to if rain is already pouring down).  We DON’T have the computers plugged in during lightening storms – we run off the computer batteries.  In heavy winds, we retract the large, more vulnerable, front slide, and have all the awnings stowed.

By watching local TV and the internet, we’ve been able to stay “home” while tornados passed within a couple of miles… but with clothes and shoes on and our emergency bags ready to go should we need to evacuate, which we HAVE done several times.  Grab the bags, grab the NOAA radio, and off to the shelter.

I took this picture of the Weather Channel the next morning, watching the news of the historic tornado outbtreak. IF the worst happens, we want to come out alive and uninjured, with those things that will help us get back to "normal": our cell phones and the ability to charge them, a radio to hear the news, money, and access to the internet.

The more we travel in tornado country, the more we realize that our chances of being injured by a tornado are very slim – and we work to keep them that way.  Still, my adrenaline runs very high when the weather radio names “towns in the path” of a possible or suspected tornado and we hear a name we recognize!


  1. That's very good information. You have a good and well thought out plan. Severe weather is one of my biggest concerns about rv living.

  2. This post is so helpful. You have given great tips on being totally prepared for taking refuge in the tornado shelter if necessary. Thanks for sharing this info and good luck out there in Tornado Land!

  3. This is a really great report. However, we would like to know what extra steps you took when you had Luna with you. We did not know if pets were allowed in the shelters and would rather stay with our cats and take our chances than leave them alone in a storm.

  4. Mom and I emerged from a basement this evening. This is wonderful advice and I have learned to ask if there is a storm shelter. LIke I tell my children "to be aware is to be alive."

  5. Wow ~ this is fantastic help! Pam and I only recently have heard tornado sirens go off while we are here in New Hudson Michigan. Your post is terrific. It gives us a game plan and some great advice.

    We have been in the same Sioux Falls Fairgrounds campground and luckily no bad weather when we were.

    Glad I found you blog and this post!

  6. Willie, pets do complicate things - we had both Tucker and Luna during the "incident" in Sioux Falls. We have a hard-sided cat carrier that is big enough for both cats. We lined it with a towel and had it on the driver's seat, ready to go. The "tornado bag" included a small bowl (for water), a day's worth of dried cat food, and an extra bottle of water, and their harnesses and leashes.

    On that night in Sioux Falls, as we watched reports of a tornado skirting us to the west, lightening cracked constantly from a cloud right overhead. Just as I said to Odel that we needed to head to the shelter, the TV said that the tornado was turning east. We stuffed both cats into the carrier and opened the front door, which was almost ripped off its hinges. Odel said "It's too late, we can't make it" and I yelled, "yes we can!" and jumped out the door with the bag. I felt like we were in the Wizard of Oz.

    He grabbed the carrier and we loaded it in the back seat (we had the Jeep right next to the MH, and unlocked). We tore across the fields to the shelter and hauled everything inside.

    We never had a problem taking the cats (in their carriers) into the shelter. In our experience, everyone sheltering is usually friendly and helpful - and bring along their own pets. That night, we were the only ones with a key to the shelter, which we had begged from the fairgrounds staff before they left for the day at 5 pm. We unlocked the building and conscientiously relocked it the first two warnings - then just left it unlocked after that!

    Also, never had to worry about taking a cat box, because the cats were too nervous to eat, drink, or eliminate anything. In fact, the upset to them was the main reason we began to figure out how we could stay stay in Scoopy until it was POSITIVELY time to go!

    Safe travels to you and your kitty family. :)

  7. Thanks Odel and Laurie. Great post with very relevant information. I'd never thought of preparing information pertainent to getting our lives back together. Time to make up some "tornado bags". Safe travels and hope you're enjoying Michigan.

  8. I also put a book in my go-bag. It helps distract me while we wait it out if it's just the two of us--otherwise talking with others helps keep me distracted. And we have sleep sacks in ours, too. It can be cold in shelters during storms so it's nice to have somethings to wrap around you to contain your own heat. And we bring more food (jerky, trail mix, whatever fresh fruit we have on hand) than you do--I get VERY grumpy if not fed regularly and no one wants to be cooped up with a grump! Besides, we might want to share with people less prepared than we are.

  9. WOW..great photos and some very valuable info. Dennis and I have run to the shelters too...mostly in the spring. We live in Illinois and are "snow birds"..Obviously wanting to avoid a snow shovel at all costs! You have a great blog...Keep on bloggin!!

  10. Great post!! Lots of good information for being prepared. :)

  11. Great information! Two years ago, we were traveling through the Midwest in July and one night were camped at the State Fairgrounds campground in Springfield, Illinois. The hosts took us under their wing, putting us into a site close to the shelter, and promising they would come get us Oregonians if a tornado were coming. Their assurance gave us some comfort, and while we camped through a tremendous storm, we didn't have to go to the shelter.

  12. Thanks so much for this information!! The weather has been so strange almost everywhere that we all need to know what to do and take precautions. Having a severe weather bag is an outstanding idea. We will get our prepared.

    You guys stay safe!
    Mike & Gerri (happytrails)

  13. What a great post. You are prepared and seem to have covered all your bases. The only thing that I can say is, I think I would probably rather get hit by the storm than listen to that weather radio. We may have had a very bad version of it but I can't tell you how many times on perfectly clear nights we would come straight up out of bed when it would go off for a county or 2 away that had a thunderstorm warning. Scared the bejeebees out of us enough that we gave up and unplugged it.

    Thanks for the excellent class on being prepared. Good Job!

  14. Thank you so much for the details! We were recently in Minnesota during their "record" tornado day and although we listened closely to the weather radio and were prepared to go, we surely weren't as prepared as you would have been! I will definitely use your suggestions!!

  15. Excellent post. I think I'm going to use your list to make sure we're better prepared.

  16. I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and going to the basement when there was a tornado warning was just what we did. It really bothered me when we moved to Texas and there were no basements! Here in California, there are no tornados.

    As I started to think more seriously about full timing some day I wondered about bad storms. The more I read, the less fearful I am.

    When our time comes, we will have the right radio and emergency packs. Knowing my husband, he will probably stay in the rig, but I'll be headed for the wash house!

  17. Hi Laurie and first comment,alto I have been reading your blog for it!
    Your storm info and your list was great...I will have a "bag" ready by the door our next time out.
    I also would like to share that it is very important to locate the nearest hospital wherever you are..we were in Phoenix when my husband had such severe pains we had to do 1am we found no lights on in any of the rv's near us..I stopped at a convenience store for help in locating a hospital,very lucky for us,a lady not only told us where one was ,but actually had us follow her to it!! What kindness!
    Needless to say,we now know where and how to get to a hospital at all places we stay.

    Safe travels to you and Odel.