Driving an RV in heavy winds can be quite a challenge. Here's a first-hand story and some advice for all RVers encountering windy road conditions…
I've never been one to worry much about the weather.
If I have something planned and the blow-dried weather guys on TV are breathlessly warning us that a snowstorm or some weather situation is about to cause the sky to fall, I usually scoff and just go on with my plans.
Weather forecasters like to scare us and keep us tuned in for ratings.
I know this from first-hand experience back in my local TV reporting days when they'd scramble “storm teams” and bombard the public with 24 by 7 weather alerts and constant promos about the big storm coming.
Usually, it was much less than what was predicted.
I Should Have Listened to the Heavy Wind Warnings
So when we set off on one of our RV trips a while back with weather forecasters talking about a wind advisory and breezy conditions coming in hard with a cold front, I barely paid attention.
The RV was packed, we had places to go and so …. we did, heading straight down I-75 from our Michigan home.
I could tell it was windy as soon as I pulled out of my subdivision. But as we negotiated the heavy traffic through Detroit, the “concrete canyons” nulled the effect and it wasn't until, just north of the Ohio border near Monroe, MI, that it became apparent that the weather guys had this one right.
The Heavy Winds Were Hitting Our RV
This was more than breezy. This was howling.
They said on the radio that the west wind was gusting to 50 miles an hour. I can't confirm that, except to say that the trip through Ohio, with all that empty farmland bordering the interstate, was a virtual tug of war.
And hopes of being spelled from my driving duties by Jennifer went by the wayside as soon as the first gust slammed into the RV.
The wind blew and buffeted, and the drive was two-handed all the way, made worse by wind shear from the occasional semi-tractor trailers that passed me.
Most of the truckers, though, seemed to have even more trouble than we did and it was me that did most of the truck passing.
The Worst Wind Conditions We Have Experienced in our RV
Truth be told, it may have been the worst wind conditions I have ever driven in.
Weather reports said the winds were responsible for lots of power outages. My RV at the time – ten feet high on the Mercedes Sprinter chassis -was like a sail.
But I also found myself – I know, this sounds weird – actually enjoying the challenge.
When in heavy winds in an RV, adjust your driving
It was “doable” once I adapted my driving to the conditions. The dual rear wheels on the RV also helped provide the stability that never caused me any serious worries.
When Is It Too Windy to Drive an RV?
A recent discussion in our RV Lifestyle Facebook Group explored the question of when it becomes too windy to drive an RV. So, when should you pull your RV over in high winds?
In general, it is best to avoid driving an RV in strong winds that exceed 45 mph. Once the winds reach approximately 60 mph, large vehicles like RVs can be toppled over by the force of the wind.
Considering the large surface area of RVs, such winds have the potential to tip them over or push them around, similar to waves crashing into a toddler.
Based on my personal experience with winds around the 50 mph mark during a tug-of-war, it is not an endeavor for the faint-hearted. In fact, it might be wiser to err on the side of caution.
If you feel uneasy driving in lower wind speeds of 30-40 mph, it is advisable to find a safe place to pull over. Only drive in conditions that feel safe and comfortable to you and your travel partner, as you wouldn't want to subject them to unnecessary anxiety either.
10 Tips for Driving an RV in Strong Winds
To navigate the challenges posed by strong winds while driving an RV, here are some valuable tips:
1. Check the Weather Before Driving (& Actually Listen To It)
When I drove into that windstorm, I knew the forecast but didn't listen to it. I figured the weatherman was being exaggeratory and wasn't going to let it slow me down.
In truth, I've gotten away with that mindset in the past. But this time, the weatherman wasn't exaggerating. I shouldn't have dismissed his forecast so easily, and taken the time to carefully consider the level of wind threat.
I should've seriously considered postponing or altering our travel plans. If you can't (or won't) postpone your plans, you can at least try to rearrange your route according to the weather conditions. The Drive Weather App can help you do just that.
2. Weigh Down the Rear of Your RV
To improve stability in high wind situations, distribute more weight toward the rear of your RV. Weighing it down will help ease bouncing and swaying by giving your rig a heavier, lower center of gravity.
3. Drive Into the Wind
If wind warnings are issued, try to determine the direction of the wind. Whenever possible, drive against the wind to minimize its impact on your RV.
While this may require some flexibility in your route planning, it can help prevent the wind from pushing your vehicle from side to side.
For example, let's say your destination is northwest and the wind is blowing east. If your planned route takes you north first, consider altering your route to head west instead.
Instead of being pushed by the wind current, the air will split and pass on the sides of the RV. Granted, this will hurt your fuel economy, but at least you'll make progress safely. Here are tips to help counteract the mileage hit: How to Get Better Gas Mileage in Your RV.
4. Slow Down
Slowing down is one of the best decisions you can make when driving in strong winds. Determine a speed that allows you to maintain control of your RV, regardless of how slow it may be.
When driving in that windstorm, I found a sweet spot that made me feel in control while still making headway in the storm. In that particular situation, that sweet spot was 10-15 mph slower than I’d normally drive. But again, only drive as fast as you can still control.
When you drive fast, it's harder to control your rig and gives you less time to react if something were to go wrong.
5. Watch for Wind Spikes
Be prepared for sudden gusts of wind, known as “wind spikes.” When passing other large vehicles, bridges, or buildings, you're RV will be hit with an additional gust of wind from a different direction.
Hold the steering wheel firmly but not too tightly with both hands. Be ready to slightly turn into the wind spikes.
Other vehicles are experiencing these same spikes. So, avoid driving next to another vehicle as much as possible. Keep your distance on all sides.
6. Constantly Adjust
Constantly adjust your steering to counteract the wind by making gentle, small movements. Think of it as pressing against the wind rather than forcefully shoving.
I like to imagine it as two people pressing on either side of a swinging door to keep it closed…
If you shove against the door and the person on the other side (the wind) lets up, you (and your RV) will tumble through the doorway. If you press against it and keep your footing, then you can right yourself before falling through the doorway.
7. Don't Overcorrect
If the wind suddenly breaks and you sharply veer toward it (“tumble through the door”), gently and steadily steer back. Don't overcorrect and end up in a different lane!
Do your best not to jerk the wheel but rather smoothly pull it back to where you need to be. Smooth, calm movements, not shoves and jerks.
8. Prioritize Finding an Exit
If the wind becomes too intense while driving, locate the nearest exit and pull off the road. It is usually better to drive a bit farther to pull off on an exit than it is to pull onto the shoulder.
HOWEVER, if there is no exit for many miles and the wind is making your RV uncontrollable, pull off on the shoulder as far off as you safely can. You don't want to be hugging the road if another driver gets blown about.
Be sure to turn on your hazard lights, and, of course, don't open your slides or awning!
9. Park in a Safe Area
If you feel too unsafe to drive in the wind, search for a secure location to park. You want to essentially “hide” from the wind.
Look for buildings or walls that you can park behind. These are great places to not only block the wind but protect you from flying debris. If there are no structures around, look for lower ground, like the base of a hill.
Be wary of parking under overpasses if the wind is coming from in front or behind you. The overpass can create more of a wind tunnel. But, if the wind is hitting your side, then an overpass can protect you.
Also be wary of parking near trees as even the sturdiest of trees likely have weak branches. The same goes for signposts, billboards, and telephone poles that might topple in the wind.
10. Secure Your Slideouts and Awning
If you decide to stop, keep your slideouts and awning closed. Leaving them extended increases the risk of the wind catching them and potentially blowing your RV over.
At the very least, open slideouts are more susceptible to damage in strong winds. Keep them closed until the wind subsides.
The Winds Won't Blow Forever
By the time we crossed into Kentucky and began heading directly west along US-71, the winds began to diminish. When we hit Louisville, they were no longer a factor.
I think we just drove out of the weather pattern that hit the upper Midwest.
We spent the night in a neat and clean place called Grandma's RV Resort, right along I-65 in Shepherdsville, KY.
The spaces are all pull-throughs, 50 feet wide and 70 feet long, with full hookups except for cable.
To the east is a pasture where curious alpacas chew the lush green Kentucky grass and hang out by the fence to watch all the people in their tin can homes.
There's a huge flea market right next door that draws thousands of people on the weekends and many of the spots seemed to be taken up by vendors for that.
While there, we took in the Bourbon Trail, a meandering route that takes in a collection of Kentucky distilleries that celebrate the rich tradition and proud history of “America's Official Native Spirit.”