How our response to severe weather is different during a pandemic
April 13, 2020
Living in Minnesota, we’re no strangers to the fact that Mother Nature can be harsh. We’ve been through blizzards, floods and tornadoes – sometimes all in the same year – and lived to tell the tale. But now that we’re all dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, we may wish Mother Nature would cut us a break. But she may not. And since COVID-19 response efforts will likely persist well into severe weather season, we’ll have to prepare with that in mind.
Some states have chosen to cancel their Tornado Drill Day this year, but we’re moving ahead with ours. It’s this Thursday, April 16, and some things will remain the same as always. For example, you’ll still hear their outdoor warning sirens sound twice that day so that, whether you’re at an essential business still in operation or are working and schooling from home with your family, you can practice your emergency preparedness plans, which should include a tornado sheltering procedure.
But Tornado Drill Day is going to look a little different this year, too. For one thing, you won’t see or hear alerts on your NOAA Weather Radio or an Emergency Alert System (EAS) message scrolling on your television screen. The National Weather Service has canceled those alerts due to COVID-19.
Another change: You and your coworkers or family will have to practice your safe sheltering while maintaining good social distancing – that is, you’ll need to follow the CDC’s guidelines for preventing transmission of COVID-19. If you live in a residential area where your tornado shelter is used by all residents, such as a mobile home community, a condo or an apartment building, check with that community to ensure that shelter will still be open during the COVID-19 outbreak. Then, do your research and know where alternative community tornado shelters are located in case you need to use them to practice social distancing when severe weather strikes. The American Meteorological Society has mentioned that many public shelters, such as schools and stores, will not open during the pandemic. So if you rely on a public shelter, take the time now to visit their website or find them on social media to determine whether that shelter will be available.
It’s also a great time to gather the family and go over your emergency preparedness plan. You can even turn it into a homeschool lesson – after all, your kids would be practicing tornado sheltering if they were at school on that day. Check out this workbook from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help you through.
FEMA also has great advice on tornado sheltering in the time of COVID-19. You’ll find ideas for best places to shelter, what to do in a community or group shelter, and where else you can take refuge if a dedicated shelter isn’t available.
So while Mother Nature might not give us a free pass this year despite the pandemic, we can still be ready for severe weather. It just takes careful planning and practice.