Dodging Tumbleweeds

We spent a good part of Saturday dodging airborne tumbleweeds. Our trip from Palo Dura Canyon through the Oklahoma panhandle and southern Kansas put us in an area of strong southerly winds – 30mph with gusts to 40mph. The weather service issued Red Flag warnings for the area. We passed through Beaver, Oklahoma just ahead of a major grass fire that approached the town and forced an evacuation. As we drove away to the north we saw at least a dozen fire trucks heading from Kansas south toward Beaver. The ‘412 fire‘ burned 29,000 acres and a few structures.

Winds that strong really affect the campervan. Head & tail winds affect gas mileage and crosswinds push the van around enough that one really has to be fully attentive. If the crosswinds are strong enough the low air pressure on the leeward site starts sucking air out of the van, causing the door seals to sound like a deflating balloon. After getting beat up all day Saturday trying to go crosswise to the wind, we altered our route somewhat on Sunday to turn the crosswind into a tailwind. That put us on a route that we’ve not yet traveled – through easternmost edge of Nebraska. The wind was strong, the gas mileage was good.

The first time I towed a travel trailer and significant distance was March 2012 when we decided to see what the South Dakota Badlands were like in early Spring. The weather was an unseasonably warm 70F in southern South Dakota – and a very windy red flag day. The travel trailer was new, the Ford F150 Egoboost Ecoboost was new, and I was just getting started learning the ins and outs of dragging large rectangular boxes through the air at 65mph. I didn’t know what to expect as far as handling, gas mileage, acceleration, braking, etc.

On day one we drove from the Twin Cities to Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, MN. The truck said I was getting 8mpg. I was not impressed. The second day we towed from Luverne to the Badlands. I stopped for gas way too often – every hundred miles or so. After getting to the Badlands I saw that the trucks gas mileage gauge showed a two day average of 7mpg. So the first half of the trip on the first day I got eight. The whole trip was seven. That means on the second day I was getting six mpg. Expectation was at least 10, maybe 12 or 13 mpg. Turns out that the Egoboost Ecoboost had so much torque that it had no trouble dragging the trailer 65mph against a strong (20-35mph) headwind. It didn’t whine, rev or shift gears. I didn’t slow down because there was no need. The truck was fine. It simply went down the road like normal – and sucked gas like a pig.

Lately I’ve been using a web site windy.com and associated app to get a better idea where the weather is heading and where I might head to avoid it. You can configure it for temperature, winds, and a host of other data, then run the animation forward a few days. You end up with a pretty good idea where the various weather systems are heading and where temperature and winds will be tolerable. It’s much better than randomly picking cities with a weather app like AccuWeather and trying to decide which parts of the country will have nice weather next week.

For example, here’s a screenshot for the temperature animation for tomorrow morning. Pretty obvious that if I want to stay above freezing, I need to be either southeast or southwest of here.

And here’s a screenshot of the wind pattern Sunday noon. Coloration shows maximum wind gusts. The bright read is 40+mph. That’s why we headed north instead of east.

We’re back home. The campervan is unpacked and winterized again. The list of things to tweak to make the campervan nicer is longer than ever.

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