COVID-19 coronavirus is rightfully dominating the headlines and virtually every facet of our lives in the United States. This pandemic has changed life as we know it. As all-encompassing as the virus threat is, I must remind you that for many parts of the country this is a very dangerous time of year for weather also. Spring and early Summer are typically peak months for tornadic activity. In fact, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has issued the following outlook for the Easter weekend:
Severe thunderstorms will be possible across much of Texas into portions of the lower Mississippi Valley, with the greatest threat likely Saturday night into early Sunday morning. Large hail, damaging wind, and perhaps a couple of tornadoes will be the primary threats.
The severe weather threat shifts further east by Sunday evening.
In the many parts of the country, housing units and infrastructure are vulnerable to tornadoes. Additionally, some people do not have adequate protective spaces in their homes so seek tornado or severe weather shelters for safety. However, should people seek such public spaces during the coronavirus pandemic? The American Meteorological Society (AMS), one of the leading weather-related professional societies in the world, issued guidelines this week on that very question.
COVID-19 coronavirus presents many challenges as we enter a very active severe weather season. Many public facilities used as storm shelters like schools, community centers, and stores are closed because of social distancing guidelines. According to an official statement adopted by the AMS Council on April 9th, 2020,
The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped nearly all aspects of everyday life as the world implements unprecedented strategies to reduce transmission of the virus. While communities continue to respond to the virus, the public must now identify how their severe weather refuges will be affected by the pandemic.
The professional society, of which I served as President in 2013, urged the public, emergency managers, the media, and forecasters to have a plan for how to message tornado sheltering during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Key recommendations from the AMS include:
- Making a severe weather plan now.
- Identifying the best place in your home or business for storm refuge. In a home that is typically a basement or windowless, interior room.
- Establishing a “Plan B” if your home does sufficient adequate tornado shelter options. This includes having a predetermined alternative location for sheltering.
- Confirming with known shelters in your area to see if they are open during the pandemic.
When do you take action if sheltering is required? As a leader within the meteorological community, this is a question that I receive often. The AMS Statement says, “If you need to travel to seek shelter, and the shelter you travel to is open, make sure that you complete your travel before a tornado warning is issued for your area.” This guidance requires you to be “weather-aware” hours and perhaps days before the severe weather threat rather than reacting once warnings have been issued.
Some best practices that I recommend include (1) reviewing weather reports from your local National Weather Service office, TV station, and their social media feeds, (2) double-checking weather forecasts before you go to bed if severe weather is expected overnight, (3) using weather notification Apps, weather call services and/or weather radios, and (4) becoming familiar with websites like NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. The AMS statement also recommends that you familiarize yourself with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 coronavirus guidelines before going to a shelter. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also has a wealth of storm preparedness information at its Ready.gov website.
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