How our response to severe weather is different during a pandemic

April 13, 2020

An outdoor warning siren

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 canceled their Tornado Drill Day in 2020, but we moved ahead with ours. In 2021​, it will be held on Thursday, April 15, 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.

Something to keep in mind: 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. 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. 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 despite the pandemic, we can still be ready for severe weather. It just takes careful planning and practice.