Severe weather preparedness during COVID-19
The current situation with COVID-19 and the “stay at home” order/social distancing rules does not eliminate the potential for a severe weather outbreak, including the possibility of tornadoes. However, it does require a little extra preparation for such an event as we enter the peak of our storm season. Planning can reduce the danger should a tornado warning be issued.
The first step is to have an emergency plan for your household. The plan will include identifying the safest location for shelter in your home, preparing an emergency kit, and checking your method of receiving alerts and warnings.
Best places to shelter
If you live in a mobile home, there is no safe place to take shelter in that structure. Check with your park management on shelter capabilities and make plans accordingly. Verify that these are open and available to you and the other residents despite the recent COVID-19 protocols.
Individuals in apartment complexes will have a bigger challenge. If their building or complex has a shelter, use that. Verify that these are open and available to you and the other residents despite the recent COVID-19 protocols. If no shelter is available, check for space on the lowest level, without windows, and put as many walls between you and the outside as possible.
In a house without a basement, put yourself on the lowest level with as many walls between you and the outside as possible. Centrally-located halls and bathrooms are the safest location to seek shelter (Figure 1). If you have a basement, that is by far the best location to go. Often going under the stairwell will protect you from falling debris.
Figure 1. Ideal tornado sheltering locations within a house. Graphic from NOAA (weather.gov/tornado)
Emergency kit supplies
An emergency kit should consist of water (one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation), at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food, flashlight, first aid kit, extra batteries, whistle to signal for help, dust mask to help filter contaminated air, plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place, moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation, wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, manual can opener for food, and cell phone with chargers and a backup battery.
Best options for severe weather updates
Smart phones and the internet are a common method of getting weather updates. However, it is helpful to have backup methods in case these systems are down. A NOAA weather radio is an important tool to receive these warnings. When purchasing a weather radio, make certain that it has a signal in the location that you will use for shelter and is programmed for your area.
Use this time at home to plan
With a statewide “stay home” order in effect, many people are spending more time than normal at their residences. While this will provide additional challenges for individuals in apartment complexes, etc. – it does provide a fantastic opportunity for everyone to plan and rehearse. Disaster plans shouldn’t be limited to severe weather! Prepare and practice for fires, earthquakes, and other disasters in this time of isolation.
- In the case of a warning, your #1 priority is to protect yourself from a potential tornado!
- Have multiple modes of receiving an alert or warning – with at least one form of alert not reliant upon cellular communications.
- Identify the safest shelter location – either in your home or in a communal shelter.
- If using a communal shelter – i.e. mobile home park or apartment complex – confirm that the shelter is open and what distancing practices are in place.
For more severe weather safety tips visit: https://www.weather.gov/mob/Severe_Tornado
Mary Knapp, Assistant State Climatologist
Christopher “Chip” Redmond, Kansas Mesonet Manager
Devan Tucking-Strickler, Response & Recovery Services Section Chief, KDEM
John Stradal, Assistant Coordinator, Cowley County Emergency Management