Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company
By Robin George Andrews
Hurricanes and wildfires, weather phenomena often associated with disasters, are seasonal and, therefore, inevitable. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, explains that both become possible in May, before usually becoming most frequent and potent from late summer through early fall. This year, meteorologists are forecasting a greater than average number of major Atlantic hurricanes—unwelcome in normal times, but especially so this year. If states are wildly successful in implementing their infection-prevention measures, Swain says, their respective COVID-19 peaks may be pushed back to late summer. In other words, right when hurricanes and wildfires may be running rampant.
Hundreds of preexisting plans deal with individual disaster scenarios. The problem is that these plans don’t account for a pandemic happening at the same time. It may be overused, but “unprecedented is the word,” says Becky DePodwin, a meteorologist and emergency-preparedness specialist at AccuWeather. “There’s no playbook for this.”
During major hurricanes and wildfires, millions of people may need to be evacuated in just a few days, Swain says. This is always a logistical quagmire, but the pandemic may create a situation in which people crowding into evacuation shelters could inadvertently cause spikes in COVID-19 cases. As those April tornadoes demonstrated, not everyone may be permitted inside in the event of a disaster. And even if all are welcome, it isn’t clear if shelters will always be able to accommodate everyone and keep them six feet apart.
That means having several weeks of supplies ready: nonperishable food, plenty of water (and water filters), medicine, and sanitary and hygiene products. Be as self-sufficient as you can afford to be. Make sure you have a workable evacuation plan for your family (and your pets) written down; a digital copy may disappear along with your electricity supply. Read your state’s disaster survival guides, available online. Check in with your local shelters to make sure they are operational. Identify trustworthy sources of information and stay informed, especially through radio channels, as they may be the only way to find out what’s happening after a disaster knocks out TV stations and the internet.