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11 Crucial Emergency Winterization Tips for Campers Caught in Sudden Cold

| Updated Jun 21, 2023

We have emergency winterization tips for RVers and campers caught in sudden cold.

What a mess. Historic low temperatures, snow in places where it is all but unheard of. Power outages. Freezing water pipes.

All this has been the plight of thousands of RVers whose getaways to what they thought would be warm places turned out to be anything but!

Many of the campers caught in sudden cold were not ready!

photo of mike dressed for the cold for winter camping tips

The campers hit by the February 2021 cold snap have been for the most part totally unprepared. Areas, where snowbird RVers would normally expect temperatures to be in the 60s and 70s, have plunged to the single digits.

Heavy snow and ice have resulted in massive power outages.

And RVers, snowbound and stuck in sometimes powerless campgrounds, are finding their RVs getting uncomfortable cold, pipes freezing and propane needed for heating and gasoline needed for generators running low.

In Episode 332 of the RV Podcast, we hear from several of them. You can hear their firsthand reports in the player below, staring about 21:30 in.


Campers caught in sudden cold share their stories and emergency winterization tips

11 Crucial Emergency Winterization Tips for Campers Caught in Sudden Cold 1
It's no fun for campers caught in sudden cold if unprepared!

That's what happened to many snowbirds who thought they were heading to nice warm southern weather.

A cold motorhome in Memphis

RV Lifestyle Facebook Group Member Laurie Sollas was camping in her 34-foot motorhome in Memphis, TN, when the cold and snow hit.

“We filled our propane tank on Sunday ahead of the snow,” she said. “We are now below a half of a tank and hoping not to run out. Temps won’t be above freezing until Saturday and we have six inches of snow on the ground. We are expecting another 3 to 4 inches later this week. Our gray water tank froze. We finally managed to thaw and drain it. So, we are putting nothing in any of the tanks. We are using bottled water. This is no fun.”

Waterless in Waco

Marlene Hacenfuss Wacek was at a Corps of Engineers campground in Waco, TX where the cold and unusual snow brought rolling power blackouts. “There is no water,” she said.  “The low last night was about 4 degrees and the high today was about 17. This is colder than home, which is the Buffalo, NY area!

Marlene and her family were in a popup camper with “a huge tarp thrown over the whole thing to help with the howling winds.”

The good news is the propane furnace in the camper works great, she reported.

“We're keeping at the lowest setting so we don't burn through as much as fast, so we're about 60-65 degrees. Also have two ceramic heaters to help. Had the foresight to get water in gallon jugs before the spigots froze. There's no water anywhere in the campground or the bathroom and the stores are completely wiped out. This is nuts!

Frozen in Ft. Polk

Jennifer Romeyn was amping in Ft. Polk, LA, where the temperature dropped to 12 degrees at night.

“We knew it was coming, said Jennifer. “We emptied the black and gray tanks yesterday and added pink stuff (RV antifreeze)  to them. We filled the freshwater tank and disconnected from city water. We woke up this morning and the supply line to the toilet was frozen. We put a heater on the floor and it thawed quickly. Other neighbors in the park are frozen and have no water.”

Putting a skirt around the trailer in Alabama

Sharon Hamilton was camping in her trailer in Town Creek, AL when the freeze warnings were issued.

“I bought black plastic sheeting and gorilla tape,” she said. “With those, I made make-shift skirting around the trailer. Unhooked the water. Using bottled water. I have all the faucets open. Am keeping the furnace on 60 so I won’t use as much propane and it will heat the underbelly. So far we still have electricity, but I have an onboard generator and 30 gal of gas, just in case. Hoping the propane doesn’t run out before this is over.”

Throughout a huge swath of the country, from Texas to the Florida panhandle, RVers reported long lines for propane, with some places selling out.

RV antifreeze was in short supply

There were also problems with RV antifreeze running out, as camper Yvonne Maddox reported from Texas, where the temperature was 18 degrees. 

“Couldn’t find any antifreeze anywhere so we covered the bottoms of the RV with plastic and put heaters under the RV and turned on the heaters inside,” she said.  “It's holding in the 40s under the Rvs so far! Hooked them up to our bus so that when the power went off, the heaters were powered by the bus generator.”

Emergency Winterization Tips for your RV or Camper

11 Crucial Emergency Winterization Tips for Campers Caught in Sudden Cold 2
Emergency winterization tips can help if you are among campers caught in sudden cold

As you just read above, you can see how ingenious some of the RVers are in trying to cope with the sudden cold. 

Nobody saw this coming. But from the experiences being reported by campers caught in sudden cold all over the south, there are some emergency winterization tips and cold weather preparation suggestions we can pass along.

What to do if you are among campers caught in sudden cold: Our list of emergency winterization tips:

      • The first and best of the emergency winterization tips we can offer those whose RVs are not already winterized is that when a hard freeze is expected (28 degrees at night and continued sub-freezing temps during the day) drive out of the area. Seek warmer climates if at all possible. If your RV has not been winterized and you've been using your plumbing system, your pipes will freeze. And if they break, you will be facing a major repair job.


      • In the wintertime, always carry two or three bottles of RV antifreeze, even if you do not expect cold weather on your trip. The weather can change in a matter of hours. Please note: USE ONLY RV ANTIFREEZE in your RV or camper. Regular automotive antifreeze is toxic. If you put it down your tanks or in your plumbing your entire system will need to be sanitized before you can use it again. RV antifreeze – the “pink stuff” – is not harmful to you or pets and is the only kind to use in a camper.


      • If you can not move and you are in a campground when the freeze warning comes, drain the freshwater tank and empty the black and grey tanks. Don't burn up your water pump but turn on the taps to get as much water out of the line as possible. Unless the RV park has heated city water hookups, unhook your RV from the water supply. Drain your freshwater hose and put it away.


      • Drain your water heater. If you've never done this, get out the manual. You do not want any water to freeze in there.


      • Do your best to get RV antifreeze into your plumbing system. Many RVers have a bypass valve and hose function that will suck water from a jug of antifreeze. On Amazon, Camco makes a hand pump with a length of hose that will siphon antifreeze into the waterlines. It's good to get this and just carry with you. But if you don't have this when you are hit with sudden cold, after emptying the freshwater tank, pour two to three gallons of RV antifreeze into your freshwater tank and then turn on the water pump and open a faucet till you see pink stuff come out.


      • The sudden cold snap that hit the southern states underscores why we always want to have our propane supply topped off. The first thing that ran out in the current crisis was propane. If you are in a place where you expect to need your heater, fill the LP tank up before setting up camp. Set the thermostat to about 60 degrees to conserve propane and dress in layers to stay warm.



      • Cover the windows. Pull the curtains and blinds. Regular winter campers use a product called Reflectex that is available at home improvement stores. It's like a bubble wrap insulation that cuts very easily and can be fitted into the window openings.


      • When you use the toilet, pour antifreeze down the toilet to flush it until the freeze ends and you have running water again.


      • Outside the RV, try to restrict airflow. Like one of our Facebook members shared above, get to a big box store and pick up a roll of heavy plastic. Wrap it around the RV from the ground to the top of the tires, like a skirt. If you have another one of those ceramic space heaters that you can plug into the campground electric pedestal, put it under the RV beneath the pipes.


      • If a pipe does freeze (like the toilet tank), use a hairdryer to blow hot air down it. That worked for one of our Facebook members as described above. 



Curious about the gear, gadgets, accessories, and RV products Mike & Jennifer use and recommend?

On this RV Lifestyle Travel blog, our RV Podcast and our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel, we mention all sorts of RV-related products and gear that we use, So we created a special page links to them. We update this all the time.  CLICK HERE to go to it directly. 

Looking for a warm place to explore?

It NEVER snows in the Florida keys! 

11 Crucial Emergency Winterization Tips for Campers Caught in Sudden Cold 3









Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-02-17

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

7 Responses to “11 Crucial Emergency Winterization Tips for Campers Caught in Sudden Cold”

June 06, 2021at2:56 pm, Best Tallulah Gorge State Park Camping In Georgia - 2boomersandababy said:

[…] If you can keep comfortable in your RV and bring warm clothes it may be well worth Tallulah Falls camping in winter. You may also want to review our RV Winterization Tips.  […]

February 20, 2021at6:58 pm, Larry said:

Lots of good tips here. I didn’t see anyone mention keeping your vehicle fuel tanks full and if you use a portable generator, keep your fuel tank full and if you carry on a fuel can, try to keep that full. Remember, once there is a major power outage, it will be difficult to get fuel.

February 20, 2021at11:45 am, D Musil said:

Not sure if anyone has had this happen or thought about it but my water filter going into our RV broke. It must have had water in it and froze. The plastic casing is about a quarter inch thick. I winterized the MH inside but never thought about water still in the house water filter.

February 18, 2021at5:32 pm, Steve Baldwin said:

It’s good to hear the ingenious ways folks are cooping with the cold. We are never able to leave western SD until mid spring, so we leave the camper winterized until we get to warmer areas.

February 17, 2021at2:21 pm, Marlese Hasenfuss Wacek said:

Yep, this has been one for the record book and the family scrapbook.
Thankfully, DH is a pessimist and plans for worse case. We had all our reflectix for our popup camper windows and extra large tarp to cover the popup, and of course tools. He also keeps our two propane tanks topped off and we brought our two ceramic heaters and extra winter weight sleeping bag to throw on top of our two, zipped together winter weight sleeping bags.
Since we are life long tent campers, we are always keeping an eye on the weather. We saw this weather system coming, but since it was affecting the WHOLE country, except the Florida Keys, there wasn’t really anywhere to head to that would be warmer that we could see. So, we decided to hunker down where we were and do the best we could.
So, here we are in a COE on Lake Whitney, not too far from Waco, TX weathering the cold. We ended up re-winterized our popup; so drained the water system and water heater. In fact, we never ended up hooking up the water hose at this site. While we still have water, we filled up our water jugs; which was a good thing b/c at some point after that, all the water in this COE has either frozen or been turned off. The toilet bowls in the bathroom are filled with a huge block/bowl of solid ice. Not good.
We put the huge tarp over the whole popup and tied it down hoping this would help with the wind blowing through the canvas and opening which are inherent with popups. We also chinked as many opening as we could with the kitchen towels and wash clothes we brought with us. The last thing was to duck tape a big bath towel over the door with has huge gaps around the bottom half. The top half is velcroed to the canvas, so that isn’t as bad. One day, the snow actually blew in and was piling up on the floor next to the cabinet. Have to keep reminding ourselves that we’re in Texas and not New York.
So far, we’re doing ok and not burning through the propane as fast as I thought we would. Rolling blackouts seem to be every 4-5 hours and last about 30-40 minutes.
We have reservations for another COE in the Georgetown, TX area in another week, and temps are supposed to be in the 60s and nothing below freezing. We’ll see.
Just hope it’s warm enough to close the popup without cracking or braking our vinyl windows.

February 17, 2021at10:57 am, Sarah said:

The 12th item to add to your list of crucial emergency camping in cold weather would be to pull in any slides you don’t absolutely need out. This will reduce the area that needs to be heated, will reduce the amount of heat loss through the rubber sweeps and will keep snow and ice off the roof that would require time and effort to remove if you wanted to move before it all melts.

February 17, 2021at1:21 pm, Mike Wendland said:

Good one!

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