Travelling in wild weather
Knowing how to accurately watch and predict the weather will help keep you – and your van – safe when you’re travelling in wild weather.
You can hear it coming – growling thunder and then a flash of lightning. Soon, the clouds roll in, casting the day into opalescence, shifting colour against a pale and dark ground, and the rain starts. It’s time to learn how to protect yourself and your caravan from severe storms – which can happen at any time of the year – and wet-season cyclones.
THE BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY
Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) spokesman Neil Bennett said caravanners can access weather information to help plan their trips and potentially keep them safe from harm.
"The Bureau’s website is one of the most popular and comprehensive websites in the country," Bennett told Caravan World.
The BOM has desktop and mobile versions of its websites as well as a mobile app to help caravanners travel safely throughout the year.
Beyond planning your trips using BOM information, Bennett said an awareness of the seasons is important. For example, he recommends avoiding non-essential travel in the tropics during summer and, when it comes to extreme weather conditions, he reminds travellers to be wary during the cyclone season from November to April.
BEING AWARE OF THE WEATHER
When planning your travel, it’s important to understand how bad weather can impact your proposed itinerary.
"Sometimes we forget the impact these tropical systems can generate in terms of flooding, especially in remote areas where roads aren’t sealed," Bennett said.
"It is very easy for those roads to quickly become impassable and, if you’re towing a caravan, that just adds to the problems."
RACQ’s Russell Manning said Queensland’s Carnarvon Gorge was a typical example of flooding trouble during the wet season.
"Every year people get caught in Carnarvon Gorge because they’ve left leaving too late and then they’re stuck there until the rivers go down again," he said.
"If it’s flooded, forget it. If you have a caravan on the back – absolutely forget it."
He agreed with Bennett that caravanners should always seek local advice when travelling and said police and roadhouses were useful sources of weather and road condition information.
PREPARING FOR THE TRAVEL
The Caravan Industry Association of Victoria’s Daniel Sahlberg said there’s more to planning a trip and avoiding bad weather than understanding meteorology and its effects.
Sahlberg reminds travellers that the weather can change very quickly, so they need to be prepared for any weather event.
Beyond servicing your van, it’s also essential to make sure your insurance policies are up to date. Caravan Industry Association of Australia CEO Stuart Lamont said there were some "standard, common sense" approaches to handling bad weather and avoiding the hassle of having to lodge an insurance claim. He recommends caravanners heed all warnings provided from emergency officials and caravan park operators, talk to the locals, check ahead for road conditions and never try to traverse flooded roads under any circumstances.
The BOM provides a forecast of up to seven days for every 6km across the country. To help with travel plans, those forecasts contain information in graphical and precise formats. In case you’re not sure which forecast to choose, don’t worry. Bennett says the BOM app will geo-locate your phone’s position and provide a seven-day forecast for you. That information includes temperatures, wind speed and direction and the likelihood of any weather conditions.
This system means seven-day forecasts now cover the entire country. The first day of that forecast will provide you with temperature, rainfall and wind information for every three hours. That means, among other things, you’ll know when that sea breeze is likely to kick in.
Although it’s best to leave early, the alternative is to get to a safe place and hunker down. Don’t leave it to the last minute to make that decision because that might make things worse – travellers can find themselves stuck and in need of rescue or alternatively stuck somewhere on a bad road where you can’t really defend yourself very well.
Manning’s advice is to remember that safety comes first and, when a cyclone is approaching, caravanners should know where to find evacuation centres, they should evacuate early and be prepared to lock up the caravan and go to a safe place.
PREPARE YOUR VAN
According to the Fire and Emergency Services Department in WA, if you do decide to hunker down somewhere safe when facing an approaching cyclone: "You should decide what you will do with your caravan, know how to tie it down and where you will go if a storm or strong winds threatens the area."
This applies to people staying in caravan parks, travelling with caravans or with caravans parked on their properties. What’s more, the department advises that "even if your caravan is securely tied down, you should seek shelter when warned of very strong winds".
When securing a caravan, you should tie down the chassis, the roof and then secure large objects too large to stow by bundling them together. In addition, turn off gas, water and electricity, board up windows, draw curtains, lock doors, block up the van and take it off the suspension, lower the van jacks to the ground to provide additional stability and tighten all tie-downs and engage the handbrake.
The first consideration when travelling in remote areas that may experience severe weather is to carry ample food and water supplies. And communication is key. That might mean having a UHF radio or satellite phone on board.
Other useful gear includes either steel cables, or 800kg breaking straps to tie down the van down during a cyclone and awning tie-down straps suitable for heavy storms or strong winds other than a cyclone.
"And you need to tell somebody where you are going," Manning said.
It’s also important to let the police know where and when you will be travelling – especially in remote areas.
For those who want to better understand the weather, the BOM website contains a ‘Learn about meteorology’ section.
Nonetheless, Bennett said one of the best tricks to short-term weather forecasting is the observation of clouds.
"You are travelling along and the morning you wake up and it’s still but very humid," he said. "You notice that there’s heavy dew that’s formed. It’s a summer’s day and you think that’s quite unusual, normally we don’t have dew in summer. As you are driving you notice the clouds are building and bubbling rapidly.
"That’s a sure sign that you’ve got thunderstorm development going on. You can quickly get a sense of that."
"It gives you a very good 12-hour forecast. That sort of information is vital, together with wind direction and speed observations, pressure and temperature."
He said it’s hard to beat the knowledge that locals have gathered over years of cloud observations.
Neil also recommends listening to the ABC’s Country Hour. He says the depth of knowledge shared on that weather segment at lunchtime is worthwhile. It’ll help keep you safe when travelling in thunder, lightning or in rain.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #561. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!