Tornado vs. COVID-19: EMA, National Weather Service, Alabama Department of Public Health recommendations for possible severe weather Tuesday

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Colony Councilman Sam Ashford unlocks the storm shelter behind Colony’s Town Hall in this Tribune File Photo. (W.C. Mann/The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala. – As the nation sits under advisories and orders to self-quarantine, north Alabama could face a weather situation Tuesday that will force them to choose between maintaining social distance and protecting themselves and their families from a tornado or other severe weather. The National Weather Service (NWS), Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and Cullman County Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) say to protect yourself and your family from tornadoes first, should the need arise.

The NWS Huntsville forecast issued Monday morning said that Tuesday, “Conditions appear highly favorable for the development of supercell thunderstorms capable of producing significant damaging winds, very large hail and tornadoes. Storms will shift eastward across the remainder of the Tennessee Valley during the evening, with a continued threat for severe weather.”

On Sunday, the Alabama offices of the NWS and the ADPH issued this joint statement:

The decision to seek shelter in a community storm shelter is certainly made more difficult by the consideration for COVID-19, and each individual will need to make an educated decision on where and when to shelter from a tornado.

At this time, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is recommending that your first priority should be to protect yourself from a potential tornado. If a warning is issued for your area, you are more likely to be affected by the tomado than the virus.

However, the decisions to open any community shelters are done at the local or county level Before you make a decision to go to a community shelter, you should check with your community shelter managers to ensure they are open, and if there are any local COVID 19 considerations. Certainly, wherever you choose to shelter from a tornado, you should use as many precautions as possible to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 as best as you can. If you rely on public community shelters, now may be the time to explore other options that might keep you safer from severe weather and possibly limit your exposure to COVID-19.

 The best way to prepare for this potential scenario is to keep up with the latest weather forecast as well as the latest recommendations regarding COVID-19 from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the ADPH and local authorities.

CEMA Director advice

CEMA Director Phyllis Little on Monday echoed the instructions issued by NWS and ADPH, telling The Tribune, “If you need to take shelter, then you need to take shelter and take as many precautions you can to social distance. But life safety is the priority, and if you’re not in a structure that can withstand a severe storm, then you’re at less risk for Coronavirus by going to a shelter than you are from injury by staying in an unsafe structure.

“I’ve contacted the mayors and the (County) Commission over the weekend, asking them to give me some input on that, and the ones I’ve heard from so far have said, ‘Our facilities are going to be open.’ People will make their own decision as to whether they come or not. And some of them are going to try and provide some hand sanitizer at the place. They’ve done cleaning to try and get them ready, as a rule, anyway. Otherwise, recommend that people bring their own hand sanitizer and take their precautions as they need to.”

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