<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Hurricane Safety for RVers
Little Log


by David Eidell (05/10)

Talk about an Oxymoron – “Hurricane Safety” should read “How To Reduce The Chances of Being Injured And Suffer Excessive Property Damage”. But that title is a bit cumbersome.

Recreational vehicles are designed to move, either under their own power or unwillingly; Couple that fact with a lack of RVer experience in dealing with hurricanes and you may end up with a recipe for disaster.

Because of where I live (Mexico’s Pacific Coast Hurricane Alley) and having suffered through two monumental hurricanes (Camille and Gilbert) and three less major storms in my lifetime, I became a student of the weather phenomenon. I also became acutely aware of some fallacies and many under emphasized points regarding hurricanes. Rather than try to write a “guide” about the subject I thought it best to share individual points to ponder:

Ø Hurricanes are rated by the Safford-Simpson Scale from F-1 the least to F-5 a monumental storm. The S.S. scale is misleading – hurricanes aren’t merely a uniform donut of high speed wind and rain; within the donut are regions “cells” of even more savage wind. Many meteorologists believe that many hurricanes support short-lived tornados that wreak havoc on whatever they encounter. I believe it – Too many times I have traveled a few miles and encountered a scene of destruction that wasn’t anything like what I had gone through. To be succinct, the distance was not significant enough to matter. Both areas encountered the inner wall and eye of the storm yet one area had destruction an entire magnitude greater. The lesson learned – Not to base a decision on the “apparent” intensity of a storm as broadcast by meteorologists or news sources.

Ø Category III, IV and V storms are deadly to RVs. Flee if you can. It is by far the wisest decision. Don’t even consider staying in an RV and trying to weather a category III or greater hurricane. A category II storm is iffy at best and a category I, the least of hurricanes must be treated with the greatest of preparation and respect. It’s always the best idea even with a category I storm to do the best you can to prepare and protect your rig, bail out and head for a nice solid structure, preferably reinforced concrete.

Ø Hurricanes are so powerful that they can raise sea-level more than a dozen feet. Couple that with storm waves of twenty or more feet high on top of the 12 feet and you end up with a sure recipe for disaster. This means that you must under the best of circumstances even with a category I storm flee far away from the ocean or sea. Meteorologists refer this rise in sea level as “storm surge”. Ten miles from the sea for a category I and a hundred miles for a category V storm isn’t being paranoid if terrain is low and swampy like it is along the gulf coast.

Ø Awareness of your surrounding topography is critical. Along with a blast of wind comes a torrent of rain – in some cases an unbelievable amount. I’ve measured eleven inches of precipitation in a 12-hour period. Arroyos and streams flood, rivers become lakes and sometimes lakes become miniature seas as do depressions and valleys with poor drainage. I have a rule – that is, to visually scout and assess my hurricane hideout. It has to be higher than the surrounding landscape. It has to be well clear of obvious water drainage paths.

Ø Quicksand is merely sand that has an upwelling of water within it and if you’ve ever seen what a deluge of water does to sand, you’ll take note to try to not park on deep sand and weather a storm. Same for parking near a hill that can turn into a mudslide lickity-split. Mud flows are dangerous; a seemingly solid hillside can give way suddenly and without warning. Rocky hillsides dispatch rocks and boulders unless the hillside is very rocky and has mature trees and shrubs growing on it. Their roots provide a good anchor.

Ø You must put yourself in a position (unless it endangers you) to orient the direction of your rig so that it places the direction of the wind on the rear. This reduces surface area exposed to the wind and offers at least some protection to the other end which in the case of a motorhome has a large and expensive windshield. If the storm passes directly over you including the eye, then once the other side of the donut arrives the wind will be from the opposite direction.

Ø If you have the time and resources and had done a bit of planning beforehand, it is possible to actually anchor the chasses of your rig to the ground. The ground has to be soft enough to dig in, you will have needed to obtain a couple of junk tires, fifty feet of three-quarter inch nylon rope and a couple of those ratcheting cargo straps. Bury the tires under a couple feet of earth or even semi-sandy soil. Wrap three loops of nylon rope around the tire before burying it. Attach either the hook of the ratcheting strap or three more loops of nylon rope around the frame (near the axles), then ratchet the strap down tight enough to pull the rig downward at least three or four inches. Eight-thousand lb. ratchet straps are good enough. Campers should have the anchor points right at the camper to truck bed mounting brackets. Note that tires must be buried deeper than two feet in soft sand or earth. Bury them flat and not standing upright.

Ø Blown out or broken windows are one of the biggest hazards in surviving a hurricane. I carry three quarter inch plywood pre-cut panels, and drill holes to pass three eighth inch nylon rope on the top edge and on the bottom edge. The top rope is thrown clear over the roof to the other side and joined to a sister plywood panel protecting a window on the other side of the rig. A five gallon bucket filled with wet sand is attached to the bottom of each plywood panel. This is another area in which those handy nylon ratchet straps would make life much easier. The idea is to tighten down on the plywood panel enough to keep it from slapping. All of this works great on rigs that do not have huge windows. Big windows can be protected somewhat by fitting a heavy duty tarp in front of them. Beware of accidentally covering up a refrigerator or hot water heater vent. BTW unless you have safety glass in the window taping it does little good; if it breaks a shard will slice through the toughest duct tape or nylon filament tape like it wasn’t even there. Stay away from the windows and draw the drapes. The bathroom usually offers a refuge

Ø Count on the power and water being cut, sometimes for days and days. In Mexico I will purchase and fill as many 5 gallon plastic water jugs and I can fit. I remember using twenty of them during 1995’s Hurricane Henrietta. Made it sort of tough to walk around inside the rig but the six hundred pounds of extra weight really helped, and I went eight-days with no outside water service. Be sure water tanks are filled. Gray and black water tanks are dumped; gasoline tanks and jerry cans are filled to the brim. Propane tanks should be plumb full, and you should have at least a pair of backup spare tanks also filled. You aren’t going to have hookups, and the sewage dump if you have one will probably be filled with runoff.

Ø Canned foodstuffs may be unappealing but if it boils down to eating canned food or nothing, then having plenty on hand is important. Shopping trips should be made at least three days in advance of a storm and more if you can do it. Extra flashlight batteries, candles, and ice to fill ice chests is vital. No refrigerator brand can maintain a flame during a raging hurricane due to enormous up and downdrafts pulsing through the vents, and it’s best to empty the refrigerator into the ice chests, shut it off, and then twist the propane valves down tight on the tanks. One less worry.

Ø Count on the inside of your rig getting soaked. Where hurricane leaks come from is anyone’s guess but I have seen high-end brand new rigs drip water right in front of the incredulous eyes of their owners. Have a waterproof plastic tarp handy and place it carefully and tuck it in on top of the mattress on your bed. Prepare to use buckets, pots and pans and whatever else is needed to catch drips and drops. A couple of large sponges can save the day. But at all costs keep your bedding and clothing dry. Assume nothing. I place my clothing inside double trash bags and then zip tie them closed. Put all life-support medications inside a zip-lock bag, and use plastic trash sacks to protect life-support equipment like CPAP and oxygen concentrators.

Ø Zip tie your awning to it’s mounting brackets with a half-dozen ties.

Ø Disconnect your shore power cord and stow it just as the storm hits. Shorted and crossed high tension wires will destroy electrical and electronic devices in a flash, and you don’t need that added onto the list of things to have to suffer and worry about.

Ø If a roof vent should start leaking be prepared. The leak may run all the way around the outside edge of the vent so one single drip pan will be useless. Slit a small hole in the bottom a large trash sack on the bottom, then duct tape the open top side of the bag to the ceiling to funnel the water. Worry about getting the tape residue off the finish later – it’ll be the least of your worries.

Ø Place your first aid kit in the kitchen sink along with flashlights. If you should lose the lights, and suffer an injury you need to access this stuff fast. Finding the sink is easy while your rig is pitch black. If all else fails and you need to light a candle, a candle burns safest within the protective confines of a sink.

Ø After the storm is over and during daylight, grab a mop or broom or something else with a handle and then step outside and away from the rig. Do a search under the rig with a flashlight to see if a rattler or other critter has taken shelter. There at least one type of poisonous snake in hurricane territory. Don’t get bit; it’d be poor timing as far as access to medical care is concerned.

Ø Staying comfortable will be your biggest task after you have safely weathered the storm. It’s going to be hot and dripping humid once the storm has passed (but don’t be surprised to see the temperature drop fifteen degrees as the eye of the hurricane passes. If you have a big enough generator you can dry out your rig with your roof A/C. But running an air conditioner day and night for many days is going to consume a lot of fuel. Be prepared for it or only run the gen to charge batteries and the roof air at the same time for awhile. Then a fan is going to be indispensible.

Ø Don’t count on a gas station having water free gasoline or diesel after a storm. A chamois can be used as a barrier to filter contaminates and water for gasoline. Droop it inside a large funnel and pour gasoline slowly. If the gas all of a sudden backs up, stop, you’ve got a slug of water on the chamois