Weather to Travel or Not — Our first year of RV life

I learned early on what impact weather makes on our decision on where to next, or how to hunker down.

I worked for a publisher of nautical books before I retired, he taught a class on the weather so boaters can decide whether to go or no-go when out cruising. Maybe I should have taken his class.

When we started this RV life, I only gave weather a passing thought. My biggest concerns when we hit the road, were hail and tornadoes…or so I thought. I now pay close attention, always checking the weather, especially before traveling. We have a marine radio in case of outages. I have a few apps I use for watching storms and tracking them. National Weather Service is one of my go-to places for information. I do weather history checks on an area before deciding to visit. I pray for the best and keep my fingers crossed. Every little bit helps.

February 2021

Our first weekend in our trailer, we had a snowstorm. Over 12” in 24 hours, this does not occur too often in the Pacific Northwest. Luckily, we were given sage advice from a friend on what to do during a cold spell. We filled our propane tanks, unhooked from city water, filled our freshwater tank, and cranked the furnace on inside to keep us and the pipes cozy warm. When we bought our Airstream, one of the deciding factors was to buy a newer unit that has ducting (like a home), in cold temperatures that ducting keep the pipes warm when the furnace is running.

Our second journey with Betty Jo (the Airstream) started in mid-May, 2021 — the “PLAN” was the southern coast of Oregon, Sacramento, Reno, then take Hwy 395 from Reno up through the eastern side of Oregon and Washington state.

We made it to Reno

Weather has always been a bit unpredictable but you usually had a basic idea of what the weather was like in certain areas and during certain seasons. Our first year in our Airstream, the weather has been anything but normal, or average. It was early June in Reno and the weather in the area was already hitting the 90’s. It was HOT! Extra hot, when you are from the cooler climate of the Seattle area.

I started watching the weather in eastern Oregon and Washington for our trip back home and the temperatures were in the 90s and expected to hit around 100. When we made plans to drive up Hwy 395, part of those plans was to boondock. The weather was normally in the upper 70s, maybe early 80s. But that summer was not normal and as newbies we were not ready for HOT weather and boondocking. We changed course and decided to head up the I-5 corridor from northern California back to Anacortes, with a stop in southern Oregon to visit Crater Lake. We thought it would be cooler. We were WRONG!!! So, wrong.

Mother Nature decided it was time for another “unusual” weather event — a HEAT DOME. Temperatures in the Pacific Northwest skyrocketed, soaring over 100 degrees. And the PNW had a meltdown. When it hit, we were in Oregon, at the Casey River RV Park, just outside of Eugene. What should have been a beautiful and relaxing location next to a river, turned into an unbearable hot mess. Half the park lost electricity because it could not handle all of the air conditioners running. Luckily the owner was able to get someone out right away and they had it fixed in a couple of hours. The inside of the trailer was almost as hot as the outside, even with both air conditioners on full blast. Our only relief was to go for a drive and turn up the air conditioner in the truck. I had a minor heat stroke meltdown and Tony’s Boy Scout training kicked in so he wrapped cold towels on my head, dipped my feet in water, then stuck me in a cold shower.

When you have a home on wheels, people will tell you, “So, just move.” It is not always that simple. The heat dome covered a lot of miles and we would have had to travel for days to get out of it. Which, meant days to return back home. There are many factors involved when it comes to making the decision to move on. Life, while on the road, does not stop and you sometimes just can’t pack up and go. And, since the industry is crowded with RVers and finding a park can often be difficult, it is hard to cancel your commitment (reservations) at a park without losing a lot of money or even being homeless for a time. Sometimes it makes more sense to hunker down and weather through it.

Wanapaum State Park in Washington in the Smoke

In August of 2021, we finally hit the road for the long haul. We left Anacortes, WA on August 12th just as the smoke from the California and Oregon fires invaded the Washington atmosphere, blanketing most of the state in thick smoke. Our first stop was Wanapaum State Park in eastern Washington. The smoke was heavy and the air quality was getting worse. To top it off, the daytime temperature had been in the 90s. Thankfully, the evening temperature dropped considerably. We could not sleep with the windows open due to the smoke, but we did run one air conditioner to help provide some relief from the heat of the day. It took us five days and many miles to finally clear the smoke, each day an improvement over the last. Having a home on wheels provided us the chance to leave the area and the smoke, but it took days to do so.

Storm in South Dakota

On our last night in South Dakota, we had just finished setting up camp and were enjoying a late lunch. I looked outside and noticed the dark, ominous clouds gathering close by. I had checked the weather before we hit the road and there was no mention of a storm brewing. We had cell service and I looked at our weather app, which now had a thunderstorm warning with tornadoes and large hail. We were fortunate, the storm passed over us before it let loose, but it was close enough to raise the hair on my neck and freak me out a bit.

While in the U.P. (upper peninsula) of Michigan, a thunderstorm broke in the middle of the night. I sat up in bed, in the darkness, watching the flashes of lightning, praying it didn’t hail on us. It rained hard and we were parked precariously on an uneven site. I kept envisioning us rolling down the hill because our site got too wet. Our imaginations go into hyperdrive when fear takes over.

We had a few other thunderstorms during our first year. Only a couple of them had hail, luckily they were small and did cause any damage to our Airstream. We were always parked in an RV park. Driving days we always had nice weather, gratefully. But the heat from June never went away, everywhere we went it was hot.

Our latest weather event was a rare ice storm in Myrtle Beach. It was only for a night. Maybe, we could have left, but to go where? The storm was raging in some sort of fashion all over the south and east coast. The weather reports said we may or may not get anything. Florida was days away and was going to have its own strange weather. It made more sense to be prepared, to hunker down, and to weather it out. Just like the snowstorm when we started, we took all of the precautions to stay safe and to stay warm. I would rather do that than get caught in a storm while on the road.

We wintered in the south, not just for the weather, but to also make sure we were not on the roads should a winter storm hit. In March, weather permitting, we will start our trek west.

The weather this year has been beyond strange and beyond normal. There is no way to plan for it, you just do what you can to stay safe, and sometimes staying put is the safest thing you can do.

And, then there are days when you are so struck by the beauty of what nature provides.

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