Local, state officials offer guidelines for sheltering from storms during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sierra Rains
Paul Tucker, director of the Carter County Emergency Management Services and members of the storm spotting team monitor a storm.

While tornadoes can occur at any time of the year, according to the National Weather Service, the peak season for tornadoes in Oklahoma is typically between March and June.

Most Oklahomans are familiar with the spring severe weather. However, this year the need to practice social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19 has brought added complications to taking shelter from severe weather.

According to guidelines from the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service in Norman, officials agree that the top priority should be protecting oneself from a potential tornado.

“If you can shelter in place at home during the storm, that would be your best option,” said Carter County Emergency Management Director Paul Tucker.

For those that don’t have a below-ground shelter, closets, bathrooms, interior hallways and interior rooms without any windows on the lowest level of the house or building offer a large amount of protection.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service, well-constructed homes and buildings provide life-saving protection from 98% of Oklahoma’s tornadoes.

Families who normally take refuge in public storm shelters should check with their community shelter managers to ensure the shelter will still be open and if there are any special considerations to plan for due to COVID-19.

“Out in the unincorporated areas of Carter County there aren’t any public shelters,” Tucker said. “However, several of the towns within Carter County do have public shelters.”

These towns include Ardmore, Dickson, Healdton and Wilson. The Ardmore shelter is located on the Plainview School campus, and Dickson and Wilson also have their shelters located on school campuses, Tucker said. Healdton’s shelter is located at the Healdton Armory.

Wherever individuals choose to shelter from a tornado, they should take as many precautions as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to wear a cloth face covering and maintain social distancing.

“Right now with everything going on you want to make sure that you practice your social distancing and do whatever you can to protect yourself and others from the potential for community spread,” Tucker said.

Officials recommend making a safety plan and preparing for severe weather immediately, reminding individuals to not wait before a tornado warning is issued to make a plan.

A tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service when conditions are favorable for the formation of tornadoes. During a tornado watch, individuals are encouraged to pay attention to the weather and be prepared to take shelter should conditions worsen.

The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning when a tornado is sighted or is indicated by radar. Individuals should take shelter immediately during a tornado warning.

National Weather Service Observations Program Leader Forrest Mitchell said the vast majority of tornadoes are weak, however, all are extremely dangerous and should be treated with extreme caution.

Last year, the state saw a record-breaking 149 tornadoes with 105 tornadoes occurring in the month of May alone.

The best way to prepare for severe weather during a pandemic is to stay informed of the latest weather forecast as well as the latest COVID-19 recommendations from the CDC, Oklahoma State Department of Health and local authorities, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service.