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What RVers Should Know About Tornados & Thunderstorms

by Fran Crawford
RVers need to be constantly alert to weather conditions when traveling because wherever they are geographically, they may face adverse weather anomalies caused by mother nature. Extreme weather, flood, hurricanes, tornados can severly damage motorhomes, fifth wheels and travel trailers. Let's take a look at tornados.

What is a Tornado

A tornado is a funnel shaped, violently rotating, mobile column of air reaching from clouds to the surface of the earth. They come in all sizes and velocities and have occurred on all continents except Antarctica, but most of them happen in the United States.

There is no 'usual' or 'standard' tornado. There is no average size, shape, speed, direction, length of time, distance traveled, strength or path of destruction of a tornado. There is no place that could be called totally 'safe' from a tornado.

The whirling air of a tornado ahead of a storm system can be clear or transparent until it touches down and gathers dust and debris. tornados have been known to cut a path in excess of a mile wide and continue for 50 miles along a course.

The winds in the walls of the vortex of a tornado average around 110 mph but can be up to 250 mph or more with tremendous destruction of anything in its path.

RVing in Tornado Season

Similar to RVing season, tornado season is generally thought of as March through September, but they can occur at any time of year, and have. Most likely, tornados are sighted between 3 and 9 p.m. but they can happen at all hours of the night or day.

At no time since 1961 has a year gone by without someone being killed by a tornado in the United States.

RVing in Tornado Alley

While tornados mostly occur east of the Rockies, in Oklahoma, Kansas and the plains states and from southwest to northeast through Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and on up to Kentucky and Ohio, no state except for Alaska has escaped the ravages of the rotating, destructive funnels of winds.

How Tornados Travel

Tornados precede a big storm system. On average they travel about 30 mph but can move along up to 70 mph or more and usually travel in a southwest to northeast direction. But don't depend on that because they change directions without rhyme or reason.

What Causes Tornados

tornados are often associated with strong, frontal systems that form in the Central States and move east. Thunderstorms develop in warm, moist air in advance of the eastward-moving dry, cold fronts. Strong winds begin rotation when the warm and cold air meet.

A change in wind direction and an increase in wind speed with increasing height creates an invisible, horizontal spinning, boiling effect in the lower atmosphere. Rising air within the thunderstorm updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical. An area of rotation, 2-6 miles wide, now extends through much of the storm. Most strong and violent tornados form within this area of strong rotation.

tornados occasionally accompany tropical storms and hurricanes that move over land. tornados are most common to the right and ahead of the path of the storm center as it comes onshore.

What Tornados Do

They gather dirt and debris and reek havoc on anything in their paths. A tornado can lift an RV into the air and roll it over and over into total destruction.

Tornado Categories

tornados are categorized by the speed of their winds. F0 to F6.
F0 - Gale Tornado 40 - 72 mph
F1 - Moderate Tornado 73 - 112 mph
F2 - Significant Tornado 113 - 157 mph
F3 - Severe Tornado 158 - 206 mph
F4 - Devastating Tornado 207 - 260 mph
F5 - Incredible Tornado 261 - 318 mph
F6 - Inconceivable Tornado 319 - 379 mph
Winds of an F6 tornado are very unlikely.

Damage by... wind, rain, hail

Destruction by lower winds speeds could include falling tree branches, rolling trash containers, shallow-rooted trees toppling, satellite and television dishes blowing over or hitting against your RV. As winds get stronger damage increases... vehicles may be blown off roads, mobile homes pushed off foundations, motorhomes, fifth wheels and travel trailers rocked severely and blown over, bigger trees uprooted, signs and signboards turned into flying missiles. The worst winds can carry automobiles, refrigerators, bathtubs through the air, lifting houses from their foundations and moving them great distances, damaging concrete structures.

With tornado winds may come heavy rains and hail... golf ball size (or bigger) that cause damage in addition to the tornado's path of destruction.

What can you do

Keep your head. There is a lot of space out there. Chances are good that you won't be hit by a tornado. But the possibility does exist, so being calm and prepared can save your life.

Information sources

You may also want to read: What RVers Should Do When Tornados Threaten

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