Hurricane season is stressful for millions of Americans every year, but this year comes with an additional hurdle: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cases of the novel coronavirus are skyrocketing across the U.S. More than 3.4 million people have tested positive for the virus, and over 137,000 have died. The South, which began aggressively reopening before many other parts of the country, has been particularly hard hit by this second wave, with many states seeing record increases in positive test results and deaths.
As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, the South faces another hazard in what experts are predicting to be a more active than normal hurricane season. The University of Georgia’s Marshall Shepherd tells you what you need to know about preparing for the brunt of storm season during a global pandemic.
Hurricane season 2020 is already shattering records, and it’s only July.
The average hurricane season has about 12 named storms. Typically, the sixth forms around late August or September. This year’s formed in early July, something Shepherd says is stunning. Experts are predicting up to 20 total storms this season.
“As I often say, it really only takes one bad hurricane in a given year to be memorable,” said Shepherd, Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor and director of the UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. “But given the fact that we do suspect a more active season this year, it puts a little bit more value on people being ready and prepared.”
Preparation for storms will look different this year.
People often get what Shepherd calls “hurricane season amnesia.” Having not experienced a powerful storm in a few years, they forget how devastating the impact can be and don’t adequately prepare.
“For me, the most useful aspect of these seasonal predictions is to really start to get people to think about what they would actually have to do if they needed to evacuate and perhaps go to a shelter and have to deal with COVID. I think that there is an extra layer of concern and an extra layer of forethought needed in how people prepare.”
Shepherd suggests adding masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant products to emergency supply kits. Some organizations are dramatically reducing shelter capacity to provide more space for social distancing between families and encouraging people to seek shelter with family members, if possible. But if you do end up evacuating to a shelter, personal protective equipment will be crucial to help prevent sickness. If you can, keep your distance from others who aren’t in your household. But most importantly, wear a mask.
You should also keep tabs on whether your typical evacuation area is a COVID-19 hotspot and have alternative locations in mind if it is. “Certainly all counties are dealing with this, but if you look at various states, some counties are hotter than others in terms of hotspots, so maybe that’s not a place that you would evacuate to, even though in the past it might’ve been a place you would go.
“There's a double whammy here in terms of the most vulnerable regions to both COVID and hurricanes,” Shepherd said. “I think it’s probably more important than ever that people are thinking about the duality of the threat here.”
Many relief agencies have already pivoted to largely online disaster training and are working to find alternative lodging like hotels for evacuees where possible.
“One thing to keep in mind is that hurricane season does really start peaking and ramping up in August, September and October. The second week of September is the peak of the season. I'm an optimist by nature, so my hope is that we will start to see somewhat of a less-risky coronavirus environment as the hurricane season starts to ramp up,” Shepherd said. “But that's certainly no guarantee.”