Severe weather shelter concerns amid pandemic

Posted at 6:29 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 19:29:15-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Severe weather is right around the corner, but this season has a different element to it that's causing some concern and confusion.

"Severe weather season is ramping up here, it looks like May is going to a busy month for us," said Scott Dergan, Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Omaha.

With May coming up, nice calm weather can change fast.

"We like people to know what they're going to do ahead of time, rather than trying to figure it out right when a warning is issued," said Dergan.

Dergan says you need to figure out where you're going to seek shelter when severe weather hits. But this year poses a different challenge with COVID-19. Seeking shelter in some cases means you'll be around other people, possibly close together.

"A tornado or damaging winds can cause immediate health concerns or death," said Dergan.

Those immediate health concerns should take priority. In a statement, the Douglas County Health Department says: "Shelters are specifically exempt from the 10-person capacity rule. It is fully understood by your local officials that it may not be possible to maintain six feet of separation during such an emergency."

"Save yourself from the tornado and try to social distance but still remain safe," said Dergan.

There may be locations that people used as a shelter before that are currently closed. If that's the case, it puts even more emphasis on having a plan and backup plans in place now.

"Identify those places that would be available to you, based on the fact that you'd get a tornado warning, where do you go? Now's the time to make that plan," said Paul Johnson of the Douglas County Emergency Management Agency.

Johnson says to find a storm shelter or basement that you can get to during a warning.

Both Johnson and Dergan agree this season could be more challenging.

"You're trying to avoid once risk by confronting another, so there are competing risks here," said Dergan.

"It's a tough call for some people, but me personally, I'm going to get in shelter from the tornado first and worry about the COVID-19 secondary but still have it in mind," said Dergan.

In addition to those plans, it's essential to pay attention to forecasts during this time. Severe weather apps like our Stormshield app can help you stay informed when severe weather hits, which you can download that app for free.