The coronavirus pandemic has changed life on Earth dramatically over the last several months. Countries have completely closed their borders, businesses have shuttered, schools have emptied, and major cities have turned into ghost towns as millions self-quarantine in their homes to help reduce the spread of the disease.
But 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.
Many communities across the country, especially those in Tornado Alley, are now grappling with how to utilize traditional public safety techniques in a world in which social distancing is the new normal.
Despite restrictions on public gatherings of 10 people or more, officials in Springfield-Greene County, Missouri, are encouraging local residents to adhere to any severe storm warnings and utilize community storm shelters as needed.
In a statement issued Wednesday, March 18, Larry Woods, director of the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management, said officials want citizens of Springfield and Greene County to know that personal safety is important and “use the community shelters that we are fortunate to have.”
“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.”
The county has seven Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shelters, six of which are located in a Springfield Public School.
Accure weather Meteorologist Tom Bedard, a volunteer firefighter and EMT who regularly works with emergency management officials, said residents who own a tornado shelter should clean the shelter out immediately and make sure they are stocked with blankets, helmets and backpacks with some clothes, necessities, and first aid equipment.
For those without a shelter, he recommended communicating with friends and neighbors to identify if someone can shelter with them.
“Have that conversation now and be at their house well before a tornado warning is issued,” Bedard said.
If you can’t make it to a shelter or a family or friend’s residence, Accure weather Meteorologist and Emergency Preparedness Specialist Becky DePodwin, said 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.
In the event that a tornado outbreak occurs and homes are lost, people could be forced to stay in shelters for an extended period. In such a scenario, DePodwin and Bedard, both of whom advise Accure weather for Business clients on safety matters, say to make sure that you have a three-day supply of clothes and necessities in a backpack so that you can take it to a recovery shelter if needed.