Social distancing or tornado shelter... Which takes precedence?




  • In Business
  • 2020-03-25 21:12:07Z
  • By USA TODAY
Social distancing or tornado shelter... Which takes precedence?
Social distancing or tornado shelter... Which takes precedence?  

So what do you do if a tornado is coming and you have to crowd together in a community shelter during this time of COVID-19?

Simply, put, "shelter is more important when the weather turns bad," tweeted Weather Channel meteorologist Kelly Cass.

And according to the National Weather Service in tornado-prone Alabama, "the decision to seek shelter in a community storm shelter is certainly made more difficult by the consideration for COVID-19, and each individual will need to make an educated decision on where and when to shelter from a tornado."

"At this time, the Alabama Department of Public Health is recommending that your first priority should be to protect yourself from a potential tornado," the weather service said. "If a warning is issued for your area, you are more likely to be affected by the tornado than the virus."

According to AccuWeather, despite the upheaval in Americans' lives because of the coronavirus pandemic, one thing that hasn't changed in the U.S. is that with the return of spring comes a spike in severe weather, and in turn, an increase in tornadoes.

In fact, April, May and June are the three months with the most tornadoes in the U.S. on average, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

In Missouri, where a tornado in 2011 in Joplin killed more than 150 people, Larry Woods, director of the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management, said last week that officials want citizens of Springfield and Greene County to know that personal safety is important and to "use the community shelters that we are fortunate to have," AccuWeather reported.

"Social distancing is important in this time, but please heed the warnings regarding severe weather," Woods said. "We would encourage property managers, as well, to continue to make their safe rooms and shelters available to their residents."

In Oklahoma, where a tornado in Moore in 2013 killed 24 people, "the COVID-19 pandemic arrived just as we are entering into our primary storm season," Keli Cain, public information manager at the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, told Oklahoma Watch.

But because federal and state public health officials recommend people avoid gathering in groups larger than 10 to slow the spread of the disease, local jurisdictions will make the call whether to open their public shelters, Cain said. "Public facilities may be closed. We're really encouraging people to start thinking about that now," she told Oklahoma Watch. "This is just March. We still have April, May and June where we have a high frequency of severe weather."

For example, Newcastle, near Norman, has a city-owned shelter that's rated to hold more than 1,000 people, but it's closed for now. "We are not going to open the shelter at this time," city manager Kevin Self, who doubles as the city's emergency management director, said to Oklahoma Watch. "We can't run the risk of exposure to coronavirus."

And back in Alabama, the weather service said that "the decisions to open any community shelters are done at the local or county level. Before you make a decision to go to a community shelter, you should check with your community shelter managers to ensure they are open, and if there are any local COVID-19 considerations."

"Certainly, wherever you choose to shelter from a tornado, you should use as many precautions as possible to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 as best as you can," the weather service said. "If you rely on public community shelters, now may be the time to explore other options that might keep you safer from severe weather and possibly limit your exposure to COVID-19."

If you can't make it to a shelter or a family or friend's residence - or choose not to - AccuWeather meteorologist and emergency preparedness specialist Becky DePodwin said that if a tornado is nearby, residents should take cover in bathrooms with no exterior walls, stairwells or a basement.

The "main point is to put as many walls between you and the exterior walls," she said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tornado shelter during coronavirus: What about social distancing?

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