As with all situations, it depends on how long it has been since the SHTF. If it is Spring when you set out or Fall, you will be in pretty good shape temperature wise, although Spring can be quite windy at times. In the heat of the summer with high humidity, I’d suggest traveling at night. You will bake out in the open on a day with no wind. Even if there is a strong wind, it may hit you like a blast furnace. The night may not necessarily bring respite. The heat will become oppressive at times, and you will not want to even be outside. May through July are the most likely times for the strongest storms. Tornados and hail are common. Watch the sky for any signs of approaching weather. I have seen storms pop up out of nowhere. I have had storms that seem like they circled around and hit us again. Consider a portable barometer/ altimeter/ pressure/ thermometer device. This is not a product recommendation, as I have not used it, but it’s an example of what you can do to help predict the weather.
My favorite story is of the time I stayed at a campground in Ogallala, Nebraska in July 2002. The storm woke us up about 4 in the morning. We were in a motor home, and we could watch the storm on TV and see the radar. The storm was not moving, but sitting right over us. We decided to go, and when I stepped out to unhook us, there was already six inches of water on the ground. There was massive flooding already going on, and we just got out of there in time. That storm sat over Ogallala for six hours and washed out bridges on the highway. A semi driver was killed when he ran into a place where the road had washed out at the bridge on Interstate 80. This was in the middle of summer. Look at the pictures on the link of this storm above to see the devastation. Needless to say, this would greatly change your course. Just about a year ago, we got five inches here in two hours. The bottom line is that you must keep an eye on the sky. Watch for possible shelter while you travel. Seek high ground in case of flooding or flash flooding. Even though we had several tornadoes within just a few miles of my home this last summer, in my almost 60 years, I have personally never seen a tornado. If you suddenly find yourself in the path of a tornado, seek shelter in the basement of any buildings nearby or crawl into a ditch and cover your head. Overpasses are not necessarily good places to hide. They create a wind tunnel effect. The same is true with storm drains. There is a lot of stuff flying around at high velocity. You don’t want to make it worse by sitting in an area that funnels the wind even faster. Trees aren’t good, unless you are deep into a wooded area. Standing under a lone tree is like standing next to a lightening rod. A woman was killed when struck by lightning walking from one campsite to another just a couple of weeks ago. Also, hail can be bad in this area, although it’s worse in the Southern plains. We get pea- to dime-size hail and even up to quarter-size hail, and it’s not unheard of to see golf-ball size. Further south there have been baseball- to softball-size hail. Even small hail can be devastating. Whole fields of corn can be wiped out, and the siding and windows of buildings can be destroyed. I’ve seen whole fields of corn completely stripped, except for the small stalks that are left. Those who are depending on their gardens may lose a year’s harvest. Strong winds for a few days in a row can also harm your garden crops, if you don’t have a wind break. There is also something called a Derecho. We had one come through here a few years back. It is worse than a tornado, because of the straight line winds. The one here was about five miles wide and several hundred miles long. The winds were clocked up to 125 mph. Corn fields were knocked down flat for miles. I have never seen so wide an area of trees and homes damaged.
Winter can be like living in Antarctica. You don’t want to be caught out in the open in a rain storm anymore than you want to be caught in the open in the winter. The best thing to do here is to find someplace to ride out the winter. As the last few winters can prove, it is possible to get down to -25 degrees even without the wind. Remember the “Polar Vortex”? Time your travels, if possible, to avoid this time of year. This may be about the only time people in the country will feel safe, because nobody in their right mind would be out there in the open for too long.
The wildlife in this region has changed since I was a kid. We never had coyotes in my area when I was growing up on the farm. Now, they are common place. It is not unusual to hear them howling at night. The pheasant and deer population has suffered because of it. My neighbor loses new lambs almost every year. He has lost five so far this year. Another neighbor lost a pair of chickens by a mink. There have also been sightings of mountain lions. Recently, there was a report of a black bear in Iowa. There have even been the occasional moose sighting. Otherwise, there are mostly what you would expect for this part of the country– red and brown fox, turkey, deer, raccoon, opossum, badger, the occasional bobcat, and other small game. I wouldn’t get anywhere near a badger. It is obvious to anyone with any common sense which animals to avoid, and they will mostly stay away from you. I suppose that some of these may also be a chance for food, but it depends on how desperate you are and the quantities of other available game in the area. It is currently nothing for me to travel across the countryside and see deer grazing in a field even close to big cities. Some towns have expanded hunting season in urban areas to reduce the population. This will change quickly the hungrier people get in any given location. Keep in mind also the chance of an animal having rabies, so watch their behavior. If they are not acting normal, stay away and/or shoot it! For example: A raccoon strolling around and acting erratic in broad daylight out in the open is not normal. Also, don’t forget about the snakes.
For me, it is mosquito season. Even with a bug repellent spray of some sort, they are hard to keep away. There are some home remedies out there with a little research, but it may be necessary to avoid outdoors, if possible. You can cover yourself in repellent and within a few minutes, you could still be surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes. Working in the garden or whatever outside, your sweat may dilute whatever repellent you are using, and it won’t take long before the mosquitoes will drive you crazy, literally! For whatever reason, they tend to go for your ears. Your supplies at your retreat will need to have some kind of repellent. I cannot imagine traveling across the country or through the brush and wooded areas this time of year. It seems like you would need to pack several cans of repellent for each person. The old saying is that there were so many mosquitoes, they would carry you away. Well, maybe not, but in Minnesota they say the mosquitoes are the size of Piper Cubs. I do know they can get so big you can count the stripes on their wings. Don’t forget about the West Nile Virus, so it makes sense to do anything you can to avoid these critters. People should also be aware of spiders. The further along summer is, the more you will notice them. While only a few in Iowa are venomous, I try to avoid them all, although not always successfully. This time of year their webs start filling-in the spaces between structures and vegetation. The brown recluse is the worst and may be present in this area. Be aware of this when digging through wood piles or other debris. There are * websites and resources to help you identify IOWA spiders. You should also know how to treat any bites. Don’t forget wasps and bees.
Rivers and Bridges
The biggest obstacles while traveling from the Chicago area to points west will be the bridges. I would suspect it won’t be long after the SHTF that bridges will be an issue. They could be washed out or have an ambush waiting or people asking for a toll. Small streams and creeks are easily crossed, but unless you plan on carrying a boat with you, you either need to cross that bridge when you get to it or find a way around it. It could take you miles out of your way. Again, maps and compasses are essential. There are several rivers and creeks between Chicago and points west, but the first major river is the Mississippi. Just about every bridge across it is right at a major city. These bridges are huge! This is just a sample of one of the bridges in the Quad Cities, Iowa. If you moved fast, maybe you’ll get through there before the bridge is compromised. It will take awhile to cross on foot, and you will be exposed the whole time. You also need to hope it wasn’t a wet spring season and there was flooding. Flooding can take over many acres of land in the flood plains. Swimming across the river is probably not a good option. The current is very swift in places. I’m not really sure I would do it next to any bridge supports or locks. Not only are there pollution concerns, but there are stories of very large catfish in these waters, very large ones. The bottom is also very muddy. If you don’t cross the Mississippi before the bridges are compromised, you may not get across the river at all. You could find a boat somewhere or possibly someone nice enough to ferry you across the river, but I have doubts about a raft. The only other idea is to go to where the river locks and dams are located and cross there. There is one just north of the Quad Cities and another alot further north at the small town of Guttenburg. There is a major lock there where you may be able to cross. I say may because I haven’t done it; however, just looking at it via satellite, it should be possible. This is at a small town and hopefully a friendly town after the SHTF. It is surrounded on three sides with steep bluffs and would make an ideal strategic location. There are several lock and dams the length of Iowa. Of course, you can only cross if the locks are in the closed position. There are very few places where there aren’t some people living along the river. The Missouri river isn’t as big, but there aren’t locks that I know of and are fewer bridges. It is also less populated along its length, except at the major cities.
Grain Storage Buildings
Caution! Do not crawl into a grain bin, elevator, or silo that still has grain in it! Every year we have people get sucked down into air pockets, and they suffocate. Standing on grain is like standing in quicksand, except it is quicker. It is seldom that people are rescued from sinking. Only by quick action are they saved and only by cutting into the side in several places, so the grain can pour out. When the SHTF, there will be nobody to rescue you. While there are quite a few grain bin deaths each year, this does not mean you can’t use an elevator as a place to hunker down. Some of the smaller towns still have these huge grain storage buildings. If you could get to the top of one of these and block off the possibility of someone coming up behind you, you can have a good place to shelter for a period of time. You will also have an incredible view of the countryside. You might also be trapped up there. I can see two from my residence, with one ten miles away. The view from the top must be amazing.
I have read JWR’s book where he describes the couple that sheltered next to a pile of corn. I cannot recommend it. First, whether shelled corn or still on the cob, if piled outside it forms a cone. The wind or weather will flow around the cone. It is nearly impossible to dig a shelter into the side of this cone because of the way the corn flows. It’s like trying to dig a shelter into a pile of sand. Also, from having grown up on a farm and riding in many wagons of corn, it seemed to me in the cold of Winter that the corn would suck the heat right out of you. I remember riding in a wagon of shelled corn thinking it would be warmer if I stuck my feet into the corn. By the time we got home, I thought I was going to have frost bite in my toes. Corn can also be used as source of fuel.