RVing in Adverse Weather Conditions Part 2: Precipitation, Humidity, and Wind

This is a continuation of Tuesday’s post on bad weather RVing. You might want to read Part 1 on heat and cold first if you haven’t already.

Humidity

92% humidity, yuck! My thermometer thinks it's raining...

92% humidity in South Carolina in September, yuck! My thermometer thought it was raining…

I spent my first summer in the Casita down in coastal South Carolina, where aside from daily highs in the upper 80’s to lower 90’s, the humidity was regularly over 85%. A week of camping in high humidity (or probably even a month) isn’t going to damage an RV, but if it continues long enough mold can become a problem. Plus, it’s uncomfortable.

  • Warmer air can hold more moisture than cooler air, so keeping it warmer in the RV will reduce the relative humidity level and condensation.
  • If you’re camping somewhere cool and humid (like the pacific northwest), most electric heaters pull moisture out of the air, so running one serves two purposes. Propane heaters normally produce moisture, so they’re less ideal.
  • Keeping the air flowing through an RV seems to reduce mold growth (I kept my fantastic fan blowing outward the whole summer with the A/C on and it helped).
  • If you’re camping in a high humidity area long-term, look into an RV-sized dehumidifier.
  • You can also buy packets to place in drawers and cabinets that suck moisture out of the air to keep clothes and other belongings from getting musty, replace them as needed.

Rain

It rained five inches over Thanksgiving weekend down in Texas in 2015

It rained five inches over Thanksgiving weekend down in Texas in 2015.

RVs are made to withstand rain, but it does take regular maintenance to keep them leak-free. And you do want to stay on top of leaks as they’re probably the number one killer of RVs. Once damage from a leak becomes structural in nature, it costs a lot to fix (and by that point you’d probably have a mold problem too).

In December of 2015 my fantastic fan started leaking in the middle of the night. I put a pot under it and turned my side dinette into a bed as a temporary measure until I could get it looked at.

In December of 2015 my fantastic fan started leaking in the middle of the night. I put a pot under it and turned my side dinette into a bed as a temporary measure until I could get it looked at.

Being cooped up inside during a long period of rain isn’t very fun, but it’s something every RVer is going to experience sooner or later. I wrote a post about what to do on a rainy day (aside from sitting in front of the TV or computer all day) shortly after moving into Cas.

  • Pay attention to the forecast. If there’s heavy rain predicted, give consideration to the elevation of where you’re camping. Don’t camp in washes or low spots, and don’t camp down dirt roads that may become impassible. Don’t try to cross roads with running water flowing over them, even if it doesn’t look deep.
  • Be mindful about parking along waterways when heavy rain is predicted upstream, or during the spring when snowmelt miles away can cause rivers to flood even if the weather is great.
  • If you’re camping long-term in an area where there’s a risk of hurricanes, have some cash and food tucked away in case an evacuation is called.
  • Have a schedule for checking your roof and walls (for me it’s spring and fall). Look at all seams/joints/rivets) to make sure they’re still sealed tight. If anything looks suspect, fix it yourself or take it in somewhere to get looked at.
  • If you happen to be in the RV during a heavy rainfall, do a cursory check of all seams/joints/rivets from the inside, looking for water. Sometimes a leak can be such a tiny thing that you can’t spot it from the outside, you won’t know it’s there until you see the evidence inside.
  • Water can travel a long way from it’s point of origin. If you spot a leak inside, it may take some trial and error to figure out where it’s coming from. Keep patching things and checking the spot when it rains until you’ve got it taken care of.

Snow/sleet

rving-warning-label1

An ice storm on Christmas Eve in 2013 strands me in Kansas. You can see the icicle coming from my fresh water connection and hanging off the bottom of Cas in the background.

Snow or ice buildup generally isn’t much a problem for an RV itself, although you’ll want to be careful of awnings or slide toppers which could rip if the weight gets too heavy. If you’re going to be camping in snowy conditions regularly, check your roof for leaks more frequently. The repeated cycle of thawing and freezing can break down the seal around caulking quicker than average as water seeps in to minuscule cracks then expands as it freezes, leaving the cracks a little bit bigger every time.

Hopefully you’ll never have to experience a blizzard while RVing, if you find yourself in the path of one, I’d leave the area if at all possible. But if you have no choice, stock up on supplies ahead of time as it might be a while before you can leave the RV to get anything. Expect that if you have hookups, the electricity will go out so don’t count on having your microwave, and buy a propane heater as a standby if you don’t have a furnace. Fill your fresh tank and dump your waste tanks ahead of time so you’ll have water. Also don’t count on having a phone signal or access to internet. Let your loved ones (and job if you work online) know what’s coming ahead of time so they don’t worry if you don’t contact them for a day or two. Have emergency gear on hand as if there’s a problem it’s unlikely help will be able to reach you with any speed. Know where your neighbors (if you have any) are going to be and let them know where you are, so you can check on each other after the worst has passed. And of course, have cold-weather gear on hand (which I talked about in part 1). I learned all this from experience after being under prepared for a freak fall blizzard up in South Dakota about a year into my full-timing adventure.

rving-in-bad-weather-1

Blizzards aren’t that interesting to photograph. Everything’s grey. October 2013.

As for driving or towing an RV through snow or sleet, my recommendation is simply, “don’t do it.” If there’s snow or ice in the forecast, wait it out, or leave before it arrives. It takes RVs longer to respond and come to a stop in the best of conditions. When driving your tow vehicle or toad around in snowy conditions, anticipate slower driving times, keep more space between you and the person in front of you, be vigilant of what other drivers are doing. Oh, and some states require chains and/or snow tires for traveling in certain areas in winter (particular high elevation mountainy areas), so check the rules for where you’re camping so you’re not caught unprepared.

Hail

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Worst hailstorm I’ve been in, Beartooth highway – August 2015. Had rain, snow, and plenty of lightning on that drive as well. Mountain weather can get scary fast, really glad I left Cas in Yellowstone.

Preventing damage from large hail is very hard to do, parking under trees can lessen the impact, but then you need to worry about the trees getting damaged and dropping limbs on your RV. It’s also really hard to predict where hail will fall – five miles or less may be the difference between golf-ball sized hail and just a light rain. Some areas are more prone to hail than others though (I’ve seen more hail in the plains states than other locations) and when it happens it usually accompanies strong thunderstorms. The best defense is avoiding camping when strong thunderstorms are in the forecast.

The potential hail crack that started leaking. This was as I was getting ready to pull up the caulk to put the permanent patch on.

The maybe hail crack. This was as I was getting ready to pull up the caulk to put the permanent patch on.

I know, it might not be possible to avoid strong thunderstorms if you’re stationary for months at a time, or don’t get enough warning. Fortunately, hail large enough to dent or puncture an RV isn’t all the common. I’ve been through at least two dozen hailstorms without incident. I also have a single star type crack on the roof of the Casita that I suspect came from a large hailstone when I got unlucky once.

This crack did eventually start to leak. I fixed it up with an epoxy meant for patching fiberglass boat hulls (works great for Casitas) and it’ll never trouble me again.

So I guess the moral of the story is, it could happen, but there’s little point it worrying about it as there isn’t much you can do to prevent it. Accept it as a natural risk of the lifestyle, and move on.

Wind

Damaging winds fall in a similar category as hail – hard to predict and hard to prepare for, and more of a threat with strong thunderstorms. I’ll never forget the storm as a child that knocked down trees at my parent’s house in Wisconsin killing the power, and blocked the road going both ways, leaving a friend who was visiting stranded overnight with us.

Tornado warning #1 on December 26, 2015. Luckily I was already at Walmart to get a cooler and ice to evacuate my dying fridge. Most big box stores have an area designated "safe" for severe weather

Tornado warning #1 on December 26, 2015. Luckily I was already at Walmart to get a cooler and ice to evacuate my dying fridge. Most big box stores have an area designated “safe” for severe weather. That night the fantastic fan started leaking (an earlier photo in this post)

Out west and in the plains states, strong sustained wind can be pretty common without a thunderstorm (especially during the spring) and advisories will often go out days in advance – as always when traveling, keep an eye on the forecast.

A dust storm in southern California, March 2016

A dust storm in southern California, March 2016

The strongest sustained wind I’ve weathered in the Casita was probably about 45 mph, just two weeks ago I drove through 50 mph wind gusts in Wyoming. The blizzard I experienced nearly three years ago reportedly had gusts up to 70 mph, although I wasn’t in the Casita for that (it didn’t tip over, so I guess all was well).

  • As you gain experience driving or towing your RV, you’ll get a feel for what wind speeds feel safe or unsafe to drive in for your particular rig. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
  • When driving, headwinds drop your mpg significantly, wind hitting you broadside is the most dangerous, and wind coming from behind increases your mpg.
  • Hitches with sway control do make a big difference.
  • RVs closer to their max weight, and trailers being towed by marginal tow vehicles won’t handle as well in strong wind.
  • Try to keep heavier things stored lower down in your RV, and keep both sides of the RV and the front and back weighted evenly. Besides being easier on your tires and axles it’ll also ride better in wind.
  • Watch for signs about high-wind areas, open flat areas and mountain passes for instance are more prone to dangerous winds.
  • To reduce rocking of a parked RV, try to point the nose or butt into the wind. Think about investing in stabilizers if your RV doesn’t come with them as they make a lot of difference.
  • Roll in your awning and put away outdoor furniture if strong wind is called for. Never leave your awning out unattended in case the wind comes up while you’re gone.
  • RVs and tornadoes really don’t mix, know where the nearest shelter is if your in an area prone to them. If you’re driving when a warning goes out, pull off the road or park and seek shelter.  If nothing else is available, laying down in the ditch is your best bet.

As always, if you have tips of your own or questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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15 Responses to RVing in Adverse Weather Conditions Part 2: Precipitation, Humidity, and Wind

  1. Lara August 26, 2016 at 7:34 pm #

    Lots of info here!
    I would probably not fill my fresh tank if expecting a blizzard. I might fill it part way… Instead, I would buy a larger jug/fill my gallon jugs to keep fresh water inside with me. I have some RV pink antifreeze in my storage comparment, too. Making sure elbows and drains and the toilet has some can be good because even if the pipes don’t freeze, the seals or other areas can. I was advised to do this anytime the temp will be below freezing for 6 hours or more. Also, keeping cabinets, especially near plumbing, open for warmer air inside is a good idea.
    Putting up the insulation you may have for the sun and hot temps may also help keep it warmer and I have even put a fleece blanket over my back, larger window. That made a big difference in my class B when I was in freezing temps. Also, ocilating heater/fans can be great to move the air in hot or cold conditions. I don’t carry one but did use one when I was parked in one place more before I set off traveling fulltime. It may be useful to put something under your tires before a snowstorm to give you traction so you can get out easier after, too.
    I’ve used weather stripping for leaks with good results. We often check where there’s caulk yet maybe don’t check the seals/stripping on our doors like the front cab have.
    I’m excited to see some more of the comments and tips people have- one can be super creative in RV life!

    • Becky August 27, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

      Thanks for sharing Lara, these are all good ideas.

  2. Judith Blinkenberg August 26, 2016 at 9:03 pm #

    Thank you for all of this information. Some of those things sound scary! I hadn’t thought of floods and snow just yet! I don’t mind normal rain as long as we have a generator and I can sit inside and sew. I’m taking enough fabric and books under the bed for weight. I hope 2017 is a good year!
    Judith Blinkenberg recently posted..Destashing Your Treasures!My Profile

    • Becky August 27, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

      You’re welcome Judith. I hope you never have to experience some of the more dire of these circumstances, but if you do at least now you know it’s possible to survive them in an RV. I hope 2017 is a good year too (really, every year has been a good year since I hit the road). Take care!

  3. Norm H. August 27, 2016 at 4:58 am #

    Stellar advice, as always. Can’t agree enough with you on keeping the rig water tight! It’s a preventative task that one needs to do on a regular schedule as you pointed out. I’d like to add one bit of advice, especially for those staying a week or more in the same area. Get a weather radio (with battery back up power) and know/practice using it. Combine that with a knowledge of the name of the county and/or surrounding communities where you are located. If staying in tornado country (see recent news from Indiana), know where you might go in your campground, e.g., a block bathhouse, etc. An ounce of preparedness is worth much more than a pound of worry. Happy trails.

    • Becky August 27, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

      Good tip Norm. Thanks for sharing and I’m glad you enjoyed this post!

  4. Kent August 27, 2016 at 6:39 am #

    Great info. I try and never let a day go by without learning something new.

    To echo Norm H.. I caught a Technomadia video in which they made mention of weather alert apps for smart phones. It looks to me like there are several to choose from. Obviously they only work if you have coverage so a radio is a great idea.

    I was honored to be involved with a part of the emergency electrical back-up system for NOAA, in Boulder, CO at the research center. Wow, I felt smarter and humbled just walking into a building which is home to some brilliant science folks.

    Thanks Becky!

    • Becky August 27, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

      You’re welcome Kent, I bet that was an interesting project to be a part of.

  5. Cheryl Kline August 27, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    Becky,
    Thank you for taking the time to share such an important information for RVers.
    I have a 20 foot travel trailer and have experience some of the very things you write about! Safe travels!
    Cheryl, Tennessee

    • Becky August 27, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

      Well, I’m kinda sorry that you’ve had to experience some of this stuff Cheryl as it’s not much fun to go through, but I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Here’s to sky skies ahead. 😉

  6. Rodolfo M Tenorio August 28, 2016 at 9:17 am #

    Very useful info. Thank you

    • Becky August 29, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

      You’re welcome Rodolfo.

  7. Mark Dial August 31, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

    Hi Becky, this is not related to weather conditions but rather if you use a tool for archiving your photos since you have them from many different years.

    • Becky September 2, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

      No tools, I save them in folders for different months and years though.

  8. Mary January 9, 2018 at 8:09 pm #

    Great post! Good points made in the comments, too, about making sure you know the name of the county you’re staying in. It’s also a good idea to know the surrounding counties, especially those to the west and southwest, since that’s where most severe weather comes from in our country, so you can tell which direction storms are moving in and when they’ll reach you. Some great weather apps include:
    • WeatherBug (free) – good for local daily and hourly forecasts, alerts and lightning warnings
    • Storm from Intellicast (free) – Best interactive radar map available, layers that toggle on and off for things like cloud cover, lightning and precip
    • RadarScope (paid) – For true weather weenies who love to track storms and want to see where all the storm chasers are
    • MyRadar (free & paid) – A good all-around Doppler app
    • Weather Velocities Pro (free/paid) – Best if you know how to read more advanced radar signatures, it shows “couplets” where winds with inflow and outflow meet — a likely signature for a tornadic vortex. Useful for large storms with lots of complicated areas — you can set it to highlight couplets so you can see them against the rest of the visual mess and get out of their way.
    • MyWarn (free) – Severe Weather Alerts
    • StormShield (paid) – Severe Weather Alerts with doppler and other functions

    These can save your life in the right situation, especially if you spend a good bit of time in the field. I’m never without them.

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