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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.