Hurricane Season Begins Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Jun 4, 2020

This week is not only the beginning of hurricane season, it is Hurricane Preparedness Week in South Carolina.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service are predicting an above-normal hurricane season for 2020.  

NWS Hydrologist Leonard Vaughn explained, "typically we have on average, 12 named storms, six of those becoming hurricanes and three of those becoming major hurricanes, which are a category 3 storm or higher.  And the forecast this year has us with 13 to 19 storms and three to six of those will be in the major category."

But this year, preparing for a hurricane has an extra, and dangerous, dimension:  if a hurricane approaches the Carolina coast, residents may have to evacuate during the COVID-19 pandemic that has now gripped the world.  The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has made plans to deal with the possibility of an evacuation exposing people to the coronavirus.  Part of those plans calls for social distancing in shelters, which could mean opening more of them to spread people further apart.

"We have several hundred pre-identified locations for evacuation centers in the state," said EMD spokesman Derrec Becker, "and those would be opened on an as-need basis.  So the fewer people in one location might mean we have to open up more.  But while staying in an evacuation shelter, people can socially distance."  He said the centers would be prepared for the arival of hurricane refugees exhibiting signs of coronavirus.  "If someone does have symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19, there'll be precautions in place for people to properly isolate and stay healthy and safe that way." 

However, Becker emphasized that the best plan is for evacuees to plan to stay in a hotel or with friends or family far inland, and consider the shelters as a last resort.  If they are needed, however, their locations will be widely publicized on EMD's website, scemd.org, under a "Shelter" tab, and via other means such as the S.C. Emergency Managers mobile app under "shelters;" through the media; highway patrolmen and local police officers; and the blue "hurricane route" signs with the notation "shelter."

On an encouraging note, Becker said a recent survey taken by EMD showed that the spread of COVID has made some people more willing to move if there's a hurricane, at least for a category 3 or higher storm.

EMD's hurricane guide, containing all kinds of advice on evacuating and making a hurricane kit, can be found at scemd.org and in print form at statewide Walgreen's stores, South Carolina Welcome Centers and other outlets.  Becker offered advice for dealing with hurricanes and COVID simultaneously using a four-word mantra: time, space, people, place.

* Give yourself TIME to prepare, and limit the amount of time you spend around others.

* SPACE: stay six feet away from people that don't live with you.

* Remember the more you interact with PEOPLE you don't know or live with, that increases your risk of         contracting coronavirus or spreading it to others.

* Have a PLACE to go if you have to evacuate your home.  A hotel, family or friends are the best options.

Vaughn said the National Hurricane Center will re-evaluate the season in August to determine if the forecast needs revision.  Becker added that the occurrence of COVID during hurricane season is a reminder that people should have a personal emergency plan for their own health and safety.