July 2022 heat dome

RVing in a Heat Dome

RVing in a Heat Dome isn’t fun. There I go again, complaining about the weather. Yes, the problem was all self-induced. Our goal for the year was to travel and have fun while crossing the lower 48 states from the tip of Florida in Key West all the way to Puget Sound in the far northwest corner of Washington.

Spoiler alert, we achieved this goal and it has been a wonderful trip, despite a few weather-related issues along the way. As explained in previous posts, this spring, we went too far north way too early. In South Dakota we had January weather in April. We also survived totally predictable winds and snow in Nebraska and Wyoming. There is nothing fun about blowing snow. Weatherwise we didn’t get spring weather until we got to Boise in the middle of May. Everything before our arrival in Boise was cold.

We had the kayaks off the car hoping to walk over to the water all week.
South Dakota January weather in April. This is not uncommon but it makes a nice contrast to the hot dry weather we had in eastern Washington.

Since then, the weather has been nice, all the way until we crossed eastern Washington, in August. After Boise, we went north and made a wonderful loop through Montana and Idaho before going west across eastern Washington. On this loop through Idaho and Montana, there wasn’t much to complain about pertaining to the weather. Instead the complaining turn to the lack of internet and cell phone connections.

Heat Dome

A heat dome forms when an atmospheric high-pressure area, locks over a location and resists being pushed out by weather fronts. A heat dome is related to the position of the jet stream. The reason a heat dome is created is that weather fronts stall. They are blocked by a southern curve in the jet stream. The high-pressure area stop, because it doesn’t move, traps the heat, not letting it move from the area. This is how you get a heat dome. Temperatures don’t fall at night and each day gets hotter than the day before. Finally, when the jet stream reestablishes its normal path, weather fronts push the heat dome out allowing the heat to rise bringing relief.

Heat Dome June 26, 2021
Heat Dome June 26, 2021. Both this picture and the above pictures are from the National Weather Service. The above picture was our heat dome in 2022. Our location on is map is the area outlined by the dashes in eastern Washington. As you can see, no matter which way we went, the issue was the same in every direction.

The 2021 heat dome over western Canada was considered a thousand-year event. In Wenatchee Washington, the temperature reached Death Valley numbers. The new ground temperature record in Wenatchee is 145 degrees.

Temperatures in 2021 all along the northwest states and western Canada were new record highs. Temperatures maxed out cooling systems and electric use in Seattle, Portland, and Victoria. These cities normally don’t use air conditioners. In 2021 the heat dome created a real health risk for many residents.

The golden areas to the right side of the road in this picture is wheat, ready for harvest. The heat dome really dries everything out quickly.
The golden area to the right side of the road in this picture is wheat, ready for harvest. The heat dome really dries everything out quickly.

In 2022, I didn’t think that an every-thousand-year event would repeat the very next year. I was wrong (somewhat). Thankfully even though we were RVing in a heat dome, it was not nearly as severe as it was in 2021. For us, our temperatures in Washington were higher than the temperatures on the same days in Las Vegas.

Route planning

If you are heading west, and expect to be along the coast in August but want to play in the mountains in Montana in July, you are going to cross eastern Washington. In our case, we knew what was coming and my mistake was going slow. Instead of sprinting across eastern Washington all in one or two days, I planned a stay for a week. This was a big mistake. We had to cross an area known for a summer heat dome and stayed way too long.

Maybe it is a good day to go to a movie in a nice air-conditioned theater.
Maybe it is a good day to go to a movie in a nice air-conditioned theater. We did and saw the new Top
Gun movie.

As we learn over and over again, if you are at a place you don’t want to be, you should leave. For us, we were stuck. I had a very coveted reservation overlooking the ocean for three weeks in Washington (at the very best time of year). Arriving early at this reservation wasn’t possible. This meant that we couldn’t leave eastern Washington early, frankly, we didn’t have any place to go. Arriving a week early would put us without a place to park. Since we couldn’t arrive early, we sat and baked.

How to RV in a Heat Dome

The most important thing for us is shade. RVs sitting in direct sunshine have lots of surface area for a limited volume. They also have lots of glass compared to most houses. Temperatures in an RV change rapidly. The best way to keep your RV cooler is to park it in the shade. This we did right, partially by plan and partially based on the kindness of our camp host. She found us an epic spot with nearly unlimited shade.

The second thing is to run the air conditioners before it gets hot. It is a lot easier to keep an RV cool than it is to get a hot RV cool.

The one good part about this picture is that for us, the heat didn't last all night. Every morning was nice.
The one good part about this picture is that for us, the heat didn’t last all night. Every morning was nice.

Our heat dome wasn’t as severe as it was in 2021. The biggest difference was that our temperatures cooled down at night so that it wasn’t too hot in the morning. Everything that I had to do outside, I did early in the morning. Then I hid for the rest of the day, until sundown. In the 2021 heat dome, it was much worse because it didn’t cool down at night.

When compared to some of our friends who live in houses, we have an advantage. If the electricity were to go out at our campground, we have both our batteries and our generator that provide electricity to run our air conditioner. Notice I didn’t say solar. Solar doesn’t do anything when you park in the shade.

Our Route

As I described in our last post, our launch point was a small town in northern Idaho. Orofino was a fine small town. We probably won’t be going back but it was fine nonetheless. The place we won’t be going back to was the subject of our last post and that was Dent Acres. It was too difficult to go to but once we were there it was great. I describe both Orofino and Dent Acres in this post. Not Going Back

After the Lochsa River joins the Selway River the name changes to the Clearwater River. Mostly I can tell them apart because we are getting further west and the grass is dried out from the heat of summer.
After the Lochsa River joins the Selway River the name changes to the Clearwater River. Mostly I can tell them apart because we are getting further west and the grass is dried out from the heat of summer.

We departed Orofino and went to Clarkston on the Washington-Idaho border westbound. Clarkston is across the river from Lewiston at the junction of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. Mostly we had been following the Clearwater River westbound since entering Idaho and crossing Lolo Pass. We first encountered the headwaters of the Clearwater River (at this point called the Lochsa River). I describe our journey following the Lewis and Clark trail in this post. Across the Bitterroot Mountains

The Clearwater River starts where the Lochsa River joins the Selway River. This post describes how we were stopped by a rockslide just north of the confluence where the name changed to the Clearwater River. Lochsa River

Lewistown / Clarkston

Our stop in Clarkston was planned as a recovery resupply stop after crossing the Bitterroot Mountains and following the Lochsa River along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Mostly we recovered during our stop at Dent Acres and Orofino. Our RV Park in Clarkston was an ideal resupply place. Its location was within walking distance of Costco. The only reason we didn’t walk was carting home the groceries and the fact that it was hot. The other characteristic of Clarkston is that it is right at the edge of the eastern Washington desert. For people who don’t mind a long drive (we don’t like that) you could drive from Clarkston to Yakima all in one day.

We saw this beautiful tiny trailer home built trailer at the Costco in Clarkston.
We saw this beautiful tiny trailer home built trailer at Costco in Clarkston.

Kennewick and Yakima

This time our stay in Kennewick was too long because of the weather. Instead of staying at our usual location in Kennewick, we camped at a new location ten miles further east. Usually, we stay at Hood Park. Here is a link to the campsite review: Hood Park

This time we stayed at Charbonneau Park. I will get a review of that up soon.

Another picture of the tiny trailer. Notice that this is the only window and there is no air conditioning. Still It is very cute.
Another picture of the tiny trailer. Notice that this is the only window and there is no air conditioning. Still, It is very cute.

We also stopped in Yakima at Yakima Sportsman State Park while heading west and even though that was cooler than Kennewick, I am glad that stop was short (it was still hot).

Into the Cascades

Once you are west of Yakima you climb into the Cascade Mountains and are safer from the typical summer heat in the eastern Washington desert. Usually, the heat in eastern Washinton will create rising air over the desert which is replaced by cooler moist air from the Pacific Ocean. In the Cascade Mountains, you benefit from this onshore flow. I say usually this is the case. Because in a heat dome, the jet stream and high-pressure region block the rising air and thus the normal cycle is stopped. Thus you won’t get the onshore flow and cooling from the ocean. This resulted in high temperatures in Seattle and Portland (just like in 2021).

During this leg we hit a mile stone of 100,000 miles.
During this leg, we hit a milestone of 100,000 miles on our RV. I wanted a picture of the 100k but was stopped here eight miles short of the number. It is a lot easier to take pictures when you are not driving.

Once we were in the Cascades, we were back to pleasant weather. Now that we are parked overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it is rather cold. That however is a different, upcoming story.

Links:

Wenatchee ground temperature 145 degrees

Charbonneau Park

Yakima Sportsman State Park

15 thoughts on “RVing in a Heat Dome”

  1. We always enjoy your posts and the stories of your interesting travels. Sounds like at 100,000 miles you are just getting her broken in. We are looking forward to the 200,000-mile photo!

  2. I always learn something from your posts. Thanks for the Heat Dome info.

    The most important thing I learned is to look at the weather forecast before you go.

  3. We are planning a trip to the northwest in the next year or two. I’ll be reviewing this post as we plan. Thanks for the detail.

    W

    1. The next post will really help. The details of how to cross the Cascades and the mistake we made (and overcame) will tell you what not to do.

  4. We are now in Bend Oregon. Sept 6 heading to Glacier National park then back home to Salisbury NC.

    GO TO NEWPORT OR to get relief from the heat. 66 the high. Usually 64. We just spent 2 months at Beverly Beach State Park. We did camp host and got to stay that long. We loved it.

    Now it’s 90 in Bend. A little adjustment here.

    1. We love Newport Oregon. This year we are focusing on the Washington coast including Olympic National Park. The coastline in Washington is further west than that of Oregon.

      So from the furthest southeast point to the furthest northwest point.

  5. Ughhhh…. I feel for you guys. We’ve been through all of this before and it is so completely miserable – especially when you’re just stuck and there’s nowhere else for you to go. I so sympathize (the worst we ever had was 108 in Idaho…) Thank heavens for that shady site, but man… it is no fun at all to be stuck in a greenhouse. Glad you guys are moved on and into more comfortable temps. Congrats on 100K… plenty more to go, I think!

  6. Perhaps a side effect of these continuing summertime heat domes in the northwest is their wine region may benefit. I remember Napa Valley temperatures in the 1980s and 1990s hitting 100+ degrees daily when we visited there annually, and the wine produced seemed to get better each year. Or maybe on reflection that mixture of heat and wine has me romanticizing the memory… it was hot!!

    1. That is looking on the bright side of too hot.

      An interesting note is that during the current heat wave in California, not less than a week after they said that they wouldn’t allow the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles (after a certain date in the future) they asked people to not charge their electric cars.

      The electrical grid wouldn’t support it.

  7. I think we’re under one of those heat domes now in socal. Under a NWS severe heat warning for the next couple of days. It was 100 in El Cajon yesterday and 107 in Ramona at the museum and in the 90’s at the coast. It was still 87 when I went outside at 10 last night. Stay safe and cool.

    1. The way to check if it is a head dome is to get a picture of the Jet Stream. If the Jet stream has made a major turn to the south to the east of a hot area, it is a heat dome… otherwise it is just hot.

  8. Turnbulls Travels

    I hate saying this – but I’m learning I need to book campgrounds with electricity during summer. As inveterate National Park/Forest campers, this makes me sad – but we’ve been bitten too many times by 100F + temps combined with limited generator hours.

    We really lucked out this summer in Alaska, with daytime temps rarely above the high 70’s . . . it was bliss! Today, Sept. 7th, is our first day back in the “lower 48”, and it’s almost 100 here in Shelby, Montana. Ugh. Like you said – we’re trying to get ahead of the heat by running the a/c even in the morning.

    We are grateful that our Dutch Star, like your Tiffin, is much better insulated than our last rig was.

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