Don’t make jokes about tornadoes in Kansas.
Because next thing you know, you’ll be in the eye of a severe thunderstorm and a tornado watch.
This is probably less intimidating if you are a local and have a house you can get back to with a basement, or you’re aware of the area’s storm shelters.
In our case, I was driving our 30 foot, 6 tonne RV into what looked like a solid black wall ahead of us.
The rain was torrential. North Nomad had never experienced anything like it. I was sure I’d driven through comparable rains in Sydney and Queensland, but not for hours on end.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the wind.
In sections of our two hour drive through the thunderstorm, the RV was being buffeted about on the highway by 75 mile per hour winds. And even worse, the highway had been shut down to one lane in sections for construction, with cones and orange construction markers littering the roads.
The speed limit for the road was 70 miles per hour (about 120 kilometres), but to keep the RV on the road, I had to drop it down to 40 miles per hour. And, despite this, I had to keep the wheel turned as if I was turning right to stay on the road.
Not being from the area, we turned on the radio to the emergency storm warning channel. The announcers advised that there were mini tornados in areas we’d driven through, with winds between 45mph and 75mph.
Their advice was bizarrely conflicting. Either stop driving and take shelter, or drive as quickly as you can through the storm. To us non-locals, we had to laugh at how extreme the options were. Should we pull over into a turning lane, as we’d seen about 20 cars and buses do? Or should we keep driving, like we’d seen the rest of the traffic do?
Whilst the rain was unrelenting, I began to feel a difference in the wind. We kept driving, and in the next half an hour, we finally began to see some sun and the edge of the storm.
But this experience did make me wonder, what should you do in these circumstances to keep safe?
I’m not sure if there will be a “next time” we’re driving through Kansas in a 30foot RV, but in case you are going on a road trip through the state and its surrounds here are some tips:
1. Check the weather forecast before you leave. If strong storms are predicted, it’s better to postpone your trip.
2. Before you go on your roadtrip through Kansas, identify the counties/parishes you will be driving through.
3. Pinpoint the emergency shelters in the areas you will be passing through. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a list of community shelters at http://www.fema.gov/safe-rooms-and-community-shelters-case-studies.
4. Tune in to your local radio station. You’ll see signs for these on the roads with the frequency you need to tune in to. You’ll get updates on storms and tornados, and advice on whether to seek shelter or not.
5. Keep a map of the highways you’re using close at hand. These are handy for situations where your GPS and iPhone maps don’t work as well as you’d like them to. When you’re listening to the storm advisory radio station, you can follow the storms on these maps.
6. If you’re advised to seek shelter, do exactly that. Don’t ever try and outrun a tornado in your car. And don’t plough through bodies of water on the road – drive through at snail pace, or take an alternate road.
7. If you can’t find shelter and you’re still in your car, the National Weather Service says to “lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.”
8. Even if you’re not advised to seek shelter, if you don’t feel comfortable driving in high winds and rain, pull over in a safe spot until the worst of the storm has passed.
9. Remember to pack the essentials – bottles of water, food, blankets, and torches.
10. Charge your electronics and phones for emergencies.
Whilst we had a good (and perhaps lucky) run with our storm, tornadoes cause about 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries per year . Strong winds can also cause as much damage as a tornado and reach up to 100mph. And flash flooding is the number one cause death associated with thunderstorms. Stats taken from the National Weather Service website at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/brochures/ttl.pdf
Now that I’ve sufficiently worried the Nomads’ families, tell me… what is the worst storm you’ve ever been caught in?
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.