Driving a motorhome or van in high winds can be incredibly dangerous. And yet, sometimes it’s unavoidable. Before you set off, here are some essential tips for driving a high-sided vehicle in strong winds safely.
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Driving A Motorhome in Strong Winds
Each Autumn, there are stories of motorhomes in the UK and Europe which have been overturned in high winds or damaged by falling trees during a storm.
The trouble with motorhomes is that they’re tall or ‘high-sided’ vehicles, making them a large target for the wind to push against. If you’re driving in a cross-wind (meaning the wind is coming from the side), you can find it very difficult to stay in your lane.
It also makes you a larger target for flying debris, even when you’re stationary.
Whilst some of this is pure chance (no one knows where a tree is going to fall), there are definitely some things you can do to limit the risks.
My experience of driving a Motorhome in high winds
I’ve been caught driving in strong winds a few times. (No sniggering at the back there)
Whilst driving the NC500 in Scotland in my motorhome, I was forced to drive to the next campsite in a gale as there wasn’t space for me to stay at the site I was on.
Whilst touring Ireland, I spent 3 days sitting out a mega storm that stalled over the south coast. The winds were so strong I could barely walk the dog, let alone drive anywhere!
And in Iceland, the crosswinds were lethal! I’d be driving just fine, happily singing along to the radio, and then suddenly I was pushed out into the other side of the road!
Luckily, there was nothing coming, but for about 2 seconds I wasn’t in control of the vehicle and that was terrifying!
What was even more scary about that was it wasn’t particularly windy that day. It wasn’t a storm. Just a freak gust which caught the van. Admittedly, this doesn’t happen very often- but always be on your guard whilst driving in mountainous areas.
Essential tips for driving a Motorhome in very windy conditions
Here are some things you should do whenever high winds are forecast. Don’t forget, if you get phone alerts for your area, you might not know about forecast warnings in the place you’re travelling to!
Before you set off
If strong winds are forecast, the best thing you can do is wait them out. Either delay your trip a day or two, go home early if you’re nearby or extend your stay at a campsite. You’ll find it much more relaxing then worrying about driving in bad conditions or damaging your van.
Tips for parking up safely
Having said that, please make sure you’re parked somewhere safe if you’re not at home.
The storm I got caught out in up in Scotland was whilst at a campsite right on the edge of a cliff. I was genuinely scared the van might get blown over the edge at one point! Whilst I know this isn’t easy (or likely), I felt a lot safer when away from the edge.
Here are some other things to think about:
- Try to be nose on to the wind if possible. Being side on will cause the van to rock horribly. Stabilising legs will help, but I’d avoid going up on chocks unless you really really must.
- Roll your awning up and being all outdoor furniture inside.
- Bring down your satellite dish
- Close all hatches and windows
- Move away from trees which are to the windward side of you. If they fall over or a branch comes off, you don’t want it to hit you.
Check the weather forecast
I know, I know “we should all check the weather forecast before we set off.”
I also know that we don’t always do it (I know I don’t!)
Still, in Autumn and Winter it’s a lot more important, not just for wind but for ice, snow or avoiding driving in heavy rain.
What wind speed can a motorhome withstand?
There seem to be various studies done on this, but no conclusive evidence. A US study in 2003 found:
“At winds speeds of about 43 m/s (95 mph), “Stationary semi-trucks and other high profile trucks, trailers, and buses may be tipped over;”
A good rule of thumb is to look at a weather forecast which shows mph (I use the weather app on my iPhone). If the forecast says winds 31mph (with gusts higher than 40), I try to avoid driving my motorhome.
Luckily, in most of the UK we rarely have such strong winds or periods of high winds which last more than a few hours, so it’s not likely to delay you too much. Having said that, here’s an incident of a motorhome which was tipped over on the Isle of Harris due to strong winds.
If you’re already out…
Sometimes, you just get caught out. If you’re already on the road and the wind picks up, here are some tips to help. (Besides stopping at a safe place asap.)
Beware of other issues
If you MUST drive, remember there are other factors which go along with storms- such as debris on the road (or in the air!), fallen trees, and floods.
If using a sat nav, make sure it has up-to-date traffic information activated, so you can avoid closed roads or big delays- but DON’T choose the ‘fastest’ route if it means going down small country lanes (see why below.)
Reduce your speed
Slow down in strong winds. The faster you’re going, the easier it is for the wind to use that momentum to move your position or even tip you over.
Expect the unexpected!
Expect the unexpected even more in high winds. The vehicle you’re overtaking could be blown out of it’s lane. Motorbikes, mopeds and bicycles are especially vulnerable to being moved across the road.
If you must overtake give as much room as possible and be aware of vehicles coming towards you which could be pushed out of their lane.
Watch a motorhome topple over in high winds!
This was in New Zealand, but shows you what strong wind can do to a motorhome or camper.
Pay attention & look ahead
Driving a motorhome (or indeed any vehicle!) in strong winds requires 100% of your attention.
Watch the road for other vehicles being moved by the wind, or debris flying. Keep two hands on the steering wheel and expect to be pushed.
Sometimes you can find a rhythm of almost driving ‘into the conditions’ if the wind is constant, but be alert for any shifts or drop in gust strength, as otherwise you’ll overcompensate.
Be especially careful on high bridges, or gaps in hedgerows or fencing, when the wind can gust even harder at you. Equally, if you overtake or any overtaken by another high-sided vehicle, it could affect how the wind hits you so pay attention.
Avoid small country lanes
I used to live in Cornwall. Small country lanes are horrible in strong winds. They suffer from debris, fallen trees, rock walls being blown apart and many other hazards, which can take a while to clear.
Unless you have no other choice, stay on larger main roads, which will flow better, have less trees and debris nearby and also will be cleared quicker if a blockage does occur.
Want more tips for motorhoming?
Here are some more ideas you might find useful:
- Essential Motorhome accessories every van should have
- Best Sat-nav for motorhomes or campervans
- Motorhome Security– tips for at home and on the road
- How to get Internet & wifi in a motorhome
- Europe- essential gear for travelling to Europe
- Best gift ideas for motorhome and campervan owners
Want FREE checklists, eBooks and additional tips to help? Visit our resource page
Kat never planned to buy a motorhome. She also never planned to quit her job as an air traffic controller, go touring around Europe in said motorhome, start one of the UK’s largest motorhome travel websites… or get a cocker spaniel.
If you’d like to connect with Kat, send her an email or follow her adventures on social media.