Stay Safe While Driving A Class A RV In Windy Conditions
There are a few basic safety tips you should keep in mind if you are driving a Class A RV in windy conditions.
A Class A motorhome is a lot like an empty semi-truck. These RVs are top heavy, and they have a high profile and large solid surfaces to catch the wind. Additionally, Class A RVs are relatively lightweight compared to their bulk, so they’re more like an empty semi than a truck loaded with cargo.
1. Slow down
The first and most important thing to do when driving a Class A RV in windy conditions is slow down and increase the distance between your RV and other vehicles on the road. It may take longer to get to your destination, but slowing down will increase the odds that you will arrive safely.
When you drive at a slower speed, you have more time to react to road hazards. Remember, you are not the only driver on the road dealing with the wind. All the other drivers are facing the same challenge.
Perhaps a tree branch or other debris suddenly crashes into the traffic lane, and a driver in front of you must react quickly. Driving at slower speeds with extra room between you and the other vehicles will help you stop or navigate around a hazard. I can’t stress this enough, but having an extra second or two to identify and react to a dangerous situation may help you avoid a horrible accident.
Strong winds are no joke. We’ve driven over 130,000 miles in a Class A motorhome, and we’ve seen numerous semis on their side and trucks pulling fifth wheels or trailers toppled over or blown off the road.
On one occasion, we drove along a freeway in Tennessee an hour after a 70 mph derecho (sudden straight-line wind event) that tore through the area. We saw many RVs and trucks wrecked on the freeway, and there were huge twisted and mangled road signs, tree branches, and all kinds of debris in the roadway and on the shoulders. This was a freak storm, which only lasted a few minutes (much like a tornado). But many of the truckers and RVers who got caught in the derecho lost control of their rigs and found themselves wrecked and on their sides in the ditches and on the overpasses.
In a situation like this, if you have time, pull as far off the road as possible and stop. The wind might still blow your Class A RV over, but it would be less dangerous to be rolled over from a standstill than to be traveling at 60 mph or more. If you don’t have time to stop, you should at least be applying our next tip to help you maintain control of your RV.
2. Drive with both hands on the wheel
In high winds, it’s imperative that you keep both hands on the steering wheel. I personally think you should drive this way all the time, but you definitely should drive with both hands on the steering wheel in strong winds. Class A RVs are easily pushed around by the wind, and you need to maintain control of the RV to keep it in your own traffic lane.
Wind can be erratic, and this creates its own set of problems because you never know when a strong blast of wind will push you in a direction you don’t want to go. Since wind is invisible, you never see it coming. So, if you’re not driving in a defensive manner, your first awareness of a strong wind gust could be after you lose control of your RV. Having both hands on the wheel will help you maintain control if a sudden erratic wind gust slams into your RV. Erratic headwinds, tailwinds, and crosswinds all create their own unique driving challenges.
Another reason to keep both hands on the steering wheel is that sometimes just going around a bend in the road will suddenly expose you to an unexpected blast of wind.
There is a section of Interstate 84 in Oregon along the Columbia River that is generally sheltered from the wind until you go around a sweeping corner near The Dalles. As soon as you get past that corner, your RV gets caught in the strong winds that blow up the river almost constantly.
There’s a reason the Columbia River is such a popular destination for wind and kite surfers. The wind is a source of great fun and adventure for the surfers, but for RVers and truckers on I-84, it is a hazard. Fortunately, I’ve driven that section of I-84 many times and I know what to expect, but I worry about all the roads with similar hazards that I don’t know anything about. Therefore, I’m in the habit of driving our Class A RV with both hands on the wheel, just in case.
3. Trucks and overpasses may cause an overcorrection
Another problem is strong continuous winds coming from the same direction. This type of driving condition will require you to hold your steering wheel a little off-center to compensate for the wind. But every overpass or semi-truck that passes you on the windy side of the RV will temporarily block the wind. When that happens, your steering correction will suddenly be an overcorrection, and it will cause your RV to move toward the adjacent traffic lane. This creates a treacherous combination of driving challenges, and it will require 100 percent of your attention.
I’ve driven east across South Dakota twice. Both times there was a strong north wind creating a crosswind that continually hit us broadside on the left side of the RV. The wind was so strong and constant, I had to keep the steering wheel turned several degrees to the left, except when the wind was temporarily blocked by an overpass or passing truck. As soon as the truck got beside our RV, it would block the wind and my left steering correction immediately started to move our RV into the lane occupied by the truck. The overpasses along the freeway also blocked the wind and caused our RV to abruptly shift to the left as soon as we got into the protected area under the overpass.
Additionally, I wasn’t the only one dealing with these conditions. The drivers of every large vehicle (trucks and RVs) were all fighting to maintain lane control. These windy conditions in South Dakota required precise driving skills to keep us all in our own lanes and not involved in a wreck. We could anticipate the wind abatement caused by the overpasses, but the passing trucks required precisely timed steering corrections. Frankly, it was exhausting both times we crossed South Dakota.
4. Be mindful while driving on bridges and overpasses
Another place you should be extra vigilant when driving a Class A motorhome is when you’re driving on bridges and overpasses. These elevated surfaces may be extremely windy, and the wind is typically a crosswind. Overpasses are not as exposed as bridges, but they are still elevated sections of roadways with little to no wind breaks.
Some of the overpasses around major cities, like Houston, can be elevated several hundred feet above the ground, and you never know when your RV will be exposed to dangerous crosswinds. Additionally, many overpasses (by the very nature of why they were built) are long sweeping curves with sloped surfaces that can further destabilize your RV. Overpasses should not be taken for granted, and bridges can be even worse.
Bridges frequently have strong crosswinds, and many bridges are so dangerous, the highway department must construct barriers to reduce the hazard.
The Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River outside of New York City is the longest bridge in New York. The wind hazard on the bridge is controlled by huge plexiglass wind barriers provided by the NY highway department. Another bridge that is often a wind challenge for trucks and Class A motorhomes is the Tacoma Narrows Bridge over Puget Sound in Washington.
The original Tacoma Narrows bridge was nicknamed Galloping Gertie because it swayed and bounced in the wind, so much so that on November 7, 1940, only 4 months after it was open to the public, the bridge collapsed into the Puget Sound after sustaining 42 mph winds.
I have driven my motorhome over the new Tacoma Narrows bridge many times and every time I check the windsock as I approach the bridge. It can be extremely windy on this bridge (or any bridge). If you’re driving a Class A RV in windy conditions, you need to be mindful of the extra dangers you may encounter on any elevated surface.
5. Take breaks often
Another tip for driving a Class A motorhome in the wind is to take more breaks from driving. The challenge of windy conditions can wear you out quickly. Both you and your passenger(s) need a break and an opportunity to change your focus.
I suggest during these breaks that you walk around the RV to check your tow vehicle, awnings, tires, mud flap, engine housing cover, windshield wipers, basement doors, and anything else that might have been displaced or jarred by the wind.
Use the break to refuel yourself with some food and beverages, and stretch your neck and shoulders to reduce tension. You might also check the weather forecast for the road ahead, or recheck your trip planner or RV LIFE Safe GPS route. After your break, you’ll be more attentive to your driving and better able to handle all the challenges of driving a Class A RV in windy conditions.
6. Check weather forecast ahead and wait, if necessary
Before starting on an RV trip, I suggest you check the weather forecast. You probably know exactly where you are going, and you may even be aware of known problem areas along your path.
You can easily check the current weather and windspeed while planning your trip on RV LIFE Trip Wizard. Under the Map Settings, a weather layer can be added to show the windspeed as well as wildfires and other problems that may affect your travels.
If you discover that the forecast is predicting high winds, but you’re unsure what to expect, then I suggest calling the highway patrol and asking them. We were preparing to drive north on I-5 from Southern California, but the wind in the Grapevine area of LA was forecasted to have dangerously high winds. This area is notorious for dangerous winds, and we were reluctant to proceed without a better understanding of the conditions.
We stopped at a rest area south of the Grapevine and called the California Highway Patrol to learn what the officers had to say about the wind conditions on the road ahead. They reported the roads were clear and the winds were moderate, so we proceeded through the pass. However, we were prepared to wait if the report had come back as too dangerous for big rigs. Sometimes, the safest strategy is to wait. The windy conditions won’t last forever, and when the threat has subsided, you can proceed safely on your journey.
On another occasion, we were traveling east out of Wyoming into Nebraska, and the weather forecast predicted dangerous winds along our route beginning in the afternoon. We took off as early in the morning as possible. The huge, animated signs over I-80 kept flashing, “Hazardous Wind Warning / Winds 50 MPH / Possible Road Closure.”
We were literally driving ahead of this storm, and in this case, I ignored my own advice to take breaks more often. We were trying to outrun a storm that might soon close the highway. We arrived in Nebraska, checked into an RV park, and waited for the storm to catch up with us and blow on by.
We stayed in that park for 3 days because the high winds on the interstate made travel too dangerous for a Class A motorhome. It was a safe (and much needed break) on a long cross-country trip. Sometimes, a short break will do, but on other occasions, you may need to stop and wait for a few days while the dangerous winds blow on by.
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Peggy Dent is an author, writer, and full-time RVer, traveling around the US and Canada. She’s traveled more than 130,000 miles in a motorhome, over the past 20 years, and is currently writing for the RV industry. You can contact her through her website at www.APenInYourHand.com