Thanks to everyone who sent their thoughts and prayers regarding our close call yesterday (April 28-29). It seems to have worked because we survived the second round of the tornado, flood and severe thunderstorm watches/warnings from last night (April 29-30) without incident!
By 7 or 8PM last night, even though there was still an active Tornado Watch here in DeKalb County Alabama, most of the local forecasters were expressing confidence that this night would be nothing like the previous night. And fortunately it wasn’t! It turned out we never even got the predicted hail or lightning here, just some heavy rain so there was no need to pull in the slides and unplug the shore power cord. The forecast for the rest of the week looks to be dry and clear – whew!
While we were extremely fortunate to have escaped these past two days physically unscathed, others did not and our thoughts and prayers go out to those who were not so lucky. It’s one thing to see the results of a tragic storm on TV, but it’s much more sobering when you see some of that destruction first hand and realize just how close a call it was. This article talks about the four tornadoes that hit the area closest to us.
It seems that one of the great things about the boating and RV lifestyle is the lack of stagnancy in the learning experience. Literally every day we pick up some tidbit of info that incrementally adds to our collective wisdom. It may be something simple like info about a good campground (or port) to visit, it may be some improvement in some process that makes things better in some way, or as was the case yesterday it can even be learning how to prepare to weather a potential tornado!
New things we learned from this experience:
- Tornadoes move fast and you need to have the tools available to know what is happening and be ready to move to shelter immediately. We are used to hurricanes and have been thru more of those than we can remember, but you almost always have several days to prepare. At best with a tornado you may have a few hours notice that conditions are getting serious, but when a hit is imminent you may only have a few minutes to get to shelter (and your RV is not appropriate shelter).
- Tornadoes are unpredictable and nothing is certain about their behavior. Despite the advances in weather radar and detection it is only possible today to see them forming as they are forming. Sometimes that can be visual, but when it’s dark or the terrain is mountainous (like it is here at DeSoto SP) the only option for detection is weather radar. The best you can hope for in terms of advance warning is access to a good live reporting station by a competent weather professional who can quickly spot the telltale signs on radar and articulate exactly where a strike is likely – but by this point you might only have a few minutes to get to shelter.
- Tornadoes strike selectively and a matter of a few hundred feet can make all the difference. But because of the previous two bullets if you are in the danger zone you must always assume you will be hit and seek shelter when the threat occurs.
- Information sources you are accustomed to having are likely to become inaccessible at the worst possible moments. For us this included our satellite TV (for watching both national and local weather broadcasts) and the internet. Especially the internet – you don’t realize how much you depend on being online until it’s not available anymore.
- It is important to think about what you would do in an emergency situation and have a plan. We had given this some thought in the past, but had not finalized the details and had to do all that on the fly which just added more stress to an already stressful situation. Now that we have been through the process and learned a few lessons, the next time we will be much better organized. So the take away here is to have a comprehensive plan BEFORE you need to implement it.
When severe weather threatens some things to act on:
- Find out what emergency shelters are nearby. If you are in a campground contact the office and learn where the designated shelters are located.
- Make a dry run getting to the shelter in daylight and while the weather is still reasonably good. Believe me that will help immensely when the threat becomes real and you are in an unfamiliar place trying to get to the shelter in the dark and pouring rain with lightning striking all around you. We are so glad we checked out the two nearby shelters ahead of time. The shelter we used was about a mile away and we drove there in the van, given the conditions at the time there was no way to read the signs for directions.
- Prepare or make whatever arrangements are necessary for your pets. How will you transport them? We have collapsible carriers for the cats that we keep handy at all times. As soon as we knew there was a threat we brought them inside so we wouldn’t waste valuable time. Will they be allowed in the shelter you are taking them to? Some shelters may not accept pets so find out. Assume there will be other pets at the shelter too so be ready for that if yours are not sociable. We didn’t have any such problems at DeSoto with the cats. They remained in their carriers the entire time (with just minimal complaining).
- Get everything together that you might need with enough critical supplies for a few days just in case. Create an “Abandon Ship Bag” – an emergency bag, like a backpack or a waterproof tote, with critical items you’ll need to take to the shelter with you. Again, at least think about it now, even if you don’t actually put it together. Designate something to use to carry your stuff, make a list of what to put in it and keep it all handy. Here are some ideas of what you might want to bring:
- Medications, enough supply for a few days
- Portable all-band radio and spare batteries – many nowadays have a crank to charge and will also charge your phone.
- Bottled water and pre-packaged non-spoilable munchies of some kind.
- A change of clothes.
- Food, water and a bowl of some sort for your pets.
- Cash and your wallet, maybe some change. (Believe it or not the only phone we had access to the day after was a pay phone )
- Primary and backup cell phones plus chargers and/or spare batteries.
- Perhaps a small knife or multipurpose pocket tool
- Your data backup from your computer (you do have one right?) – if your computer was destroyed, what info would be very difficult or impossible to replace? Financial, photo’s, etc.? A backup can usually fit on a tiny thumb drive or pocket size portable hard drive.
- Perhaps a pair of small two-way radios to use should you get separated and your cell phone service is down.
Some additional thoughts…
- Have a NOAA weather radio on board your rig, learn how to use it and keep it on at all times. Consider one with SAME capability so you can selectively reduce alarm warnings from distant areas (although if you are moving around constantly this might not be a feature you use). We have a great weather app on our smart phones that was rendered useless by Verizon going down so it is imperative to have a dedicated weather radio as an alternative.
- Have a small and PORTABLE all-band radio and/or TV that you can take to the shelter with you. It is extremely helpful to know what is going on around you. Make sure its batteries are charged or you have spares. We didn’t have one, we will soon!
- Don’t depend on your cell phone for communication or internet access. Towers can go down in severe weather or during power outages and these devices become useless – that happened to us in this case (Verizon) and was down or intermittent for days afterwards. Perhaps keep a backup phone from an alternative carrier – this could be an old phone that you don’t use anymore. Even without a voice plan you should at least be able to make 911 calls. Our primary carrier is Verizon wireless, but we also keep an old iPhone with a T-Mobile SIM card as our backup and charge it up periodically. In this case though, T-mobile didn’t work either.
- If you have satellite TV, don’t plan on it being watchable during extreme weather. The Weather Channel and the local TV stations we were watching via our DISH Network satellite service were fine until the severe weather got close, just when we really needed them.
- Don’t rely exclusively on any one technology as your information source. Set up some form of backup access to TV or Radio when you first learn of possible severe weather. If you normally use satellite TV, find a way to gain access to over the air TV, cable or AM/FM radio. Make arrangements with neighbors who may have alternative technologies and keep each other informed if necessary.
- To minimize potential damage to the rig, we put any loose objects away and retracted all the slides to minimize the damage from high winds and hail. We also unplugged the shore power cord to protect against surges from a lightening hit on the power grid – even though we have a surge protector, if the surge is big enough the protector is likely to self sacrifice. Note that just switching off the breaker may not protect you from a surge – the ground and neutral wires are still connected and can carry damaging current into your coach – so unplug the cord completely. In this case, due to the heavy lightning we went all night off the grid and ran from the house batteries. Our fridge is electric only, so I did set the generator to start up when the battery voltage dropped below a threshold.
So thanks again to all that were thinking of us, someday we promise to bore you with all the details of this adventure!