Family Tent Camping and High Winds

High winds are generally not encountered when tent camping, unless campers ignore weather forecasts.

To increase confidence in camping and the outdoors, however, a bit of knowledge of high winds and of when and how to act is useful.

The wind scale categories below allow campers to easily assess the threat of high winds and choose appropriate shelter.

Be sure to keep a radio with you so that you can monitor the winds at your campsite.

If you haven't already, please first read the Tent Camping And Wind page in order to explore the more moderate winds that family tent campers normally encounter.

Let's continue...

Tent Camping and High Winds.

Wind speeds
or threshold:            


Suitable equipment, useful tips, important information:


30 - 60 mph
(50-100 kph)

Strong to severe.
Tent camping in these winds is beyond the scope of most family recreating. Family tent campers should plan carefully to avoid high winds.

Be mindful and be flexible. Keep your camping trips successful and enjoyable.

Suitable tents for experienced tent campers: Tents for these winds tend to be either too small, expensive, bulky or heavy to suit most families.

Suitable campsites for these winds: Families will find that neither a sheltered nor an exposed campsite will be suitable in these winds.

In a sheltered (forested) site, trees will block much of the wind, but tents will be exposed to a significant threat from falling branches and falling trees.

Trees will be in full motion and will provide an ominous backdrop to a forested campsite.

In an exposed campsite, family tents should be safe from falling branches, but most likely exposed to too much wind.

Tip: If your tent is exposed to these winds due to a passing storm, try to park your vehicle directly upwind of the tent to block the brunt of the wind.

Rain in these winds: Horizontal with a lot of penetrating force; heavy wind-driven rain; raining sideways; "&@*#^$%", etc.

Tent rainfly styles suitable for these winds: Full rainflies only; Single or double wall tents.

Wind gusts become very significant in this range. Hikers can be knocked down.

Wind origin for these winds: Very strong low pressure system or strong storm cell.

Tree failure/breakage: Significant. Rotting large branches can snap off of trees. Some trees will topple due to rotting or soft ground from heavy rain.

Debris in these winds: Dust, sand, leaves, etc. Unsecured large flat objects can catch the wind and become dangerous projectiles.

Most family tents will become debris in these winds.

Shelter tip: Vehicles can provide shelter from these winds. Glass should protect you against these winds, but watch for debris in the air.

Park the vehicle away from trees.

Traveling tips: Vehicles will need to get off of the roads as these winds increase, especially vehicles with large profiles. Side gusts and large passing vehicles can push a vehicle out of the lane.

These winds can especially destabilize trailers towed behind vehicles.

Boaters are also required to get out of the water in these winds.

Misc info: Experienced tent campers who choose to camp in areas where 30 mph winds are common are usually expedition (exped) or wilderness backpackers. They have sturdy equipment and are often prepared to camp in up to 60 mph winds or gusts.

These enthusiasts usually also choose to camp in exposed sites away from any falling or flying debris.


60 mph
threshold:


(100 kph)
This threshold marks severe winds.

The NWS issues severe weather advisories as well as severe thunderstorm warnings for these winds.

This wind speed is also an approximate threshold for a weak tornado or hurricane.

Compared to 7.5 mph, at 60 mph, the wind force is over 60 times as great.


60-120 mph
(100-200 kph)

Severe to extreme.
The greatest dangers in these winds are small debris and large trees: Launched small debris can cause serious injury outdoors and toppled large trees can crush buildings and vehicles.

Frequency: It is very unlikely for family campers to encounter these winds at a campground. They occur less than once a camping season for most campgrounds and are always accompanied by weather alerts.

Wind origin: Very strong low pressure system, supercell, straight line winds, weak tornado, severe storm cells, severe thunderstorm, weak hurricane making landfall.

Tree failure: Substantial. Toppled individual trees to large blowdowns of the forest canopy (tree cover).

Structure damage: Parked trailers, mobile homes, and other buildings without foundations are often blown over or destroyed in these winds. Buildings with foundations mainly suffer roof damage.

Tornado: Roughly 80% of tornados fall within these wind speeds and are designated as weak tornados, which usually last up to several minutes.

For tent campers this means that most tornados are survivable with adequate shelter.

Shelter tips: Campgrounds are designed for camping and have a limited number of buildings on foundations that can protect against severe winds and light projectiles.

Since campgrounds are often located in forests, nearby trees are also a concern.

When entering a developed campground, tent campers should note the location of the emergency shelter, which is usually posted at the entrance to the campsite section of the campground or at the park office. The emergency shelter should be your first choice of shelter.

If the toilet and shower block is built from concrete blocks and mortar, it should provide shelter against these winds.

Vehicles or trailers cannot provide safe shelter from these winds. They can be battered or overturned. Glass will not protect against these winds.

Family tent campers at wilderness campsites need to plan in order to avoid severe winds. Shelter may be limited or not available at all.


120 mph
threshold:


(200 kph)
This threshold marks extreme winds.

The NWS issues strong or severe tornado and strong hurricane warnings for these winds.

This wind speed corresponds to an F2 (EF2) tornado or a Category 3 hurricane.

This speed is roughly in the range of a terminal velocity for a variety of large objects--for example, the human body.

At approximately this speed, wind begins to exert a force on many large objects that is equal to their weight. The wind will be able to move some large unsecured objects.

Compared to 7.5 mph, at 120 mph, the wind force is over 250 times as great.


120-240 mph
(200-400 kph)

Extreme to fatal.
Campers will not experience these winds unless they have ignored a tornado warning or have not kept apprised of the weather. A weather forecast of possible tornados later in the day should give ample warning to tent campers to pack up and leave the area.

Due to weather forecasting, experiencing these winds while tent camping is as likely as winning the lottery.

Frequency: On average, these winds strike any specific area less than once every 50 years.

Wind origin: Supercell, straight line winds, strong tornado, strong hurricane.

Tree damage: In the path of the tornado, moderate to total destruction of vegetation, which can be snapped or uprooted.

Structural damage: Moderate to severe damage to structures (even tall buildings), bridges, and highways.

These winds can push a building off of its foundation, or even carry it away.

Debris: As winds increase within this range, they are able to launch ever larger and heavier projectiles. These missiles batter, seriously damage, and often cause buildings to collapse, creating more debris.

Due to the destructive airborne debris, these tornados can act something like a grinder.

These winds can launch a vehicle into a structure and can even carry large objects away.

Tornado: Approximately 20% of tornados fall within these wind speeds, the majority towards the lower end of the category.

A strong tornado may last 30 minutes or longer.

From the year 2007 to 2010, approximately 1 in 50 tornados caused a death in the US, and these killer tornados averaged about 3 deaths each. This shows that the vast majority of tornados are survivable.

Strong tornados are spawned by supercell storms or hurricanes, which are visible on weather radar and thus fairly easy to avoid.

Shelter tips: In these winds people should, if possible, seek shelter below ground. Structures above ground may not offer adequate shelter against extreme winds and large debris.

Most campgrounds are, however, unlikely to offer underground shelter.

In an emergency, make haste to the designated campground emergency shelter, whatever and wherever it is. Knowledgeable people will have designated it to be the sturdiest structure and best shelter in the campground. It will be your best chance for survival.


240+ mph:
(400+ kph)

Upper limit of wind scale.
This wind speed corresponds to an F4 (EF5) violent tornado.

This wind will cause massive damage to the outdoors.

A violent tornado can last up to one hour.

Safe shelter from a violent tornado is most likely an underground bunker with a supported ceiling, which is unlikely to be unavailable to tent campers.

Compared to 7.5 mph, at 240 mph, the wind force is over 1000 times as great.


Readers should now know how to divide high winds into categories: strong (30-60 mph), severe (60-120 mph), and extreme (120-240+ mph). Tent campers also now know the minimum shelter in each range for reasonable safety, (inside a vehicle, inside a structure with a foundation, below ground).

This scale also shows that, in the unlikely event of extreme winds at a campground, it may be impossible to find shelter which can assure safety. Tent campers will have to make do with what is available.

The most important ideas that the scale imparts for family tent camping is that it is wise to monitor the weather, to avoid high winds and to know in advance where the designated emergency shelter is located.

Be mindful. Be flexible. Enjoy tent camping.

Conclusion
This page concludes an odyssey through wind in the outdoors. These wind pages were written in order to give novice campers a basic understanding of wind and increase their confidence in camping in the outdoors.


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