This spring, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM) and the National Weather Service (NWS) are offering the following guidance for how to take shelter from severe weather during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The need to practice social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19 brings added complications to taking shelter from severe weather. However, state and federal officials agree that your top priority should be to protect yourself from a potential tornado.
Officials recommend sheltering from tornadoes inside your home when possible. If you don’t have a below-ground storm shelter, well-constructed homes and buildings provide life-saving protection from 98 percent of Oklahoma’s tornadoes. Take shelter in a closet, bathroom, interior hallway or other interior room with no windows on the lowest level of the house or building.
Now is the time to explore the best options to keep you safer from severe weather as well as limit your exposure to the virus. Don’t wait until a tornado warning is issued to make a plan.
Wherever you choose to shelter from a tornado, take as many precautions as possible to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 as best as you can, including Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations to wear a cloth face covering and maintain social distancing.
The best way to prepare for severe weather during a pandemic is to stay informed of the latest weather forecast from the NWS and local media as well as the latest recommendations regarding COVID-19 from the CDC, the Oklahoma State Department of Health, and local authorities.
What is a tornado?
A tornado is a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud spawned by a thunderstorm or sometimes as a result of a hurricane and is produced when cool air overrides a layer of warm air, forcing the warm air to rise rapidly. The damage from a tornado is a result of the high wind velocity and wind-blown debris.
Tornado season is generally March through August, although tornadoes can occur at any time of year. They tend to occur in the afternoon and evenings: over 80% of all tornadoes strike between noon and midnight.
When a tornado threatens, individuals need to have a safe place to go and time to get there. Even with advances in meteorology, warning times may be short or sometimes not possible. Lives are saved when individuals receive and understand the warning, know what to do, and know the safest place to go.
Attempting to shelter outside in a ditch, under an overpass, in a vehicle or in a mobile home provides little or no protection from even a weak tornado. The best course of action is to plan ahead and avoid being caught in these places during a storm. If you are trapped, try to get to a sturdy structure as quickly as possible and get in-get down-cover up!