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How Do You Know if a Tornado is Coming? (9 RV Safety Tips)

| Updated May 18, 2021

Is a tornado coming? An RV is not a safe place to be during a tornado. Here are warning signs and how to stay safe in the face of a tornado.

Tornado season is fast approaching! How do you know if a tornado is coming? 

Here is my guide to all things tornado! I cover the tornado warning signs and how to stay safe during and after one occurs. 

What is a Tornado? 

is a tornado coming

I know most of you know this, but you'd be surprised how often this question is searched for in Google! I did say this guide is for all things tornado, so here's a quick definition.

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that reaches from a thunderstorm to the ground beneath it. Most tornadoes are thin, but some can be greater than two miles wide. A tornado hits when warm air collides with cold air.

Tornado Season

Did you know that there is a tornado season

While it typically occurs in June or July, tornadoes can occur at any time. They can also happen, day or night, but most tornadoes occur between 4-9 pm. 

The United States experiences approximately 1,200 each year. 

Where Do Most Tornadoes Occur? 

The nickname “Tornado Alley” has been given to the broad area where most tornadoes occur in the United States. The boundaries of Tornado Alley change depending on the criteria you use to define it. 

Generally, the region includes central Texas stretching horizontally to northern Iowa. Then from central Kansas and Nebraska eastward to the west edge of Ohio. 

The U.S. tornado threat shifts from place to place during the year. The Southeast states are threatened during the cooler months. The southern and central Plains are most at risk in May and June. The early summer is a risky time for the northern Plains and Midwest areas. 

While tornadoes generally stay in these regions, they have occurred in all fifty states!

Tornado Watch vs. Tornado Warning

weather screen

A Tornado Watch is issued by the meteorologists at the NOAA Storm Prediction Center. They watch the weather all day, every day across the U.S. for signs of severe weather. A watch can cover parts or entire states. 

If you know there is a chance of severe weather, you can tune into NOAA Weather Radio to hear when an advance warning is issued. Many survival radios have the seven NOAA Weather Stations pre-programmed for your convenience. 

A Tornado Warning is more urgent. It is issued by the NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office meteorologists watching a designated area nonstop. It means that radar or spotters have picked up on an actual tornado that is threatening people or property. 

A Tornado Warning means that you are at risk of danger and need to seek an immediate storm shelter. A warning can include parts of counties or several counties. When in an area issued with a Tornado Warning, be sure to watch for the tornado warning signs. 

How Do You Know if a Tornado is Coming? (9 RV Safety Tips) 1

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How Do You Know if a Tornado is Coming?

drive weather app

The national weather service cannot always predict a tornado, nor give much warning. That is why it is a good idea to be able to spot the warning signs of tornadoes yourself. Advance planning can also mean the difference between life and death. And we highly recommend you get this particular weather app to be prepared while RVing.  

Here are a few things to learn how to spot – if you think a tornado is coming your way

1. Wall Cloud

You may see a wall cloud or the lowering of the base of the thunderstorm. Be especially cautious if the wall is rotating. 

2. Debris Cloud

Even if a tornado is not visible, look for a whirling dust or debris cloud near the ground, which can indicate a tornado without a funnel. 

3. Large Hail

Large hail, with the absence of rain, can be an indicator of an impending tornado.

4. Heavy Rain

When hail or heavy rain is followed by a quick, intense wind shift or a dead calm be watchful. This can indicate a thunderstorm, as many times they are wrapped in precipitation and cannot be seen. 

5. Still Weather

Many times before a tornado strikes, the wind speeds can die down, producing a quiet, still air. Many report this as eerie silence. Others call it the “calm before the storm.”

6. Roaring Noise

A tornado can produce a loud rumbling sound that is similar to the loud roar of a freight train. This can occur during the day or night. 

7. Funnel Cloud

A rotating extension of the cloud base can signal the formation of a tornado.

8. Dark Sky with Greenish Tint  

The sky may appear dark and have a greenish hue.

9. Small and Bright, Blue-Green Flashes  

At night, pay attention to small, bright, blue-green flashes near ground level. That could indicate power lines are being snapped by strong winds or a tornado. 

What to Do if You are Caught in a Tornado


Tip #1: When referring to tornado safety, your stationed RV is similar to a mobile home. It’s even less safe. If you are camping somewhere, and find yourself at risk of a tornado, get out if possible. 

Tip #2: While you do not want to be exposed outdoors, you do want to try and find the safest place possible. The best places are underground shelters or sturdy, permanent buildings. 

Tip #3: If you are driving your RV or other vehicle and get caught near a tornado, it can also be dangerous. Your best-case scenario is to try and drive out of the tornado's path. To do this, drive at a right angle to the tornado if at all possible. 

Tip #4: If you get caught in high winds or hit with flying debris, park the vehicle as quickly and safely as possible. Lower your head below the windows. Cover your head and hands with a blanket or coat. 

Tip #5: If you spot an area lower than the roadway, leave your vehicle and lie down in that area. Cover your head with your hands. 

Tip #6: If you are in the outdoors, try and locate some sort of storm shelter in a sturdy building. If that is not possible, lie down at the lowest level you can find.

Tip #7: Try to avoid trees and vehicles, and cover your head with your arms. 

Tip #8: Jennifer and I highly recommend you also invest in one of the 5 Best Survival Radios for Emergencies before you leave on your next road trip, whether heading toward Tornado Alley or not. And we highly recommend you get this particular weather app to be prepared while RVing.

Tip #9: For more helpful information, refer to the NOAA's Tornado Safety Guide.

What to Do After

Once the tornado passes, assess the damage. Look and smell for a gas leak, and move away if needed. 

If you can, stay put and wait for medical personnel or law enforcement. Help any injured people that you can. 

If you haven’t already, turn on your radio and tune in to NOAA weather radio or local radio station. 

If you must drive out of the area, be careful to watch for any downed power lines. 

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-05-18

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.

4 Responses to “How Do You Know if a Tornado is Coming? (9 RV Safety Tips)”

May 15, 2022at10:04 pm, Tornado Safety for RVers: What to Do If There’s a Tornado said:

[…] are also warning signs of a tornado coming you should be aware […]

May 15, 2022at6:15 am, Tornado Safety For RVers: What To Do If There’s A Tornado | RV Lifestyle said:

[…] are also warning signs of a tornado coming you should be aware […]

May 20, 2021at12:47 pm, Sherri McClelland said:

Good info! However in #4 above under “Heavy Rain” you say it could indicate a thunderstorm, but I believe you meant to say it could indicate a tornado as tornados can definitely be wrapped in rain. My best advice after living and camping in Kansas and Missouri for 6 decades is to not fret about it. Be sure to know what county you are in because watches and warnings are issued by counties, know where you can go if the weather turns, keep on top of the weather forecast, and enjoy your camp out!.

May 18, 2021at10:24 am, Earl A Johns said:

Thankyou so much for all your helpful info , just finished the article on Tornados….I found it very informative.Being from Central Canada (Ottawa) not a lot of experience with tornados, However we do travel into the US , your info will help us to pick our route by season ….that is after we get the border open !?‍♂️??

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