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Is Mid-Missouri prepared for a potential tornado during a global pandemic?

May typically brings Missouri the most tornadoes of any month.

Just weeks ago on May 4, severe thunderstorms tore across the southern part of the state, leaving behind significant wind damage. Gov. Mike Parson addressed the cleanup.

“It is a balancing act between COVID-19, reopening the economy, severe weather, and many other things on a daily basis, but I want to assure you we are prepared in the state of Missouri,” Parson said.

Dealing with a global pandemic has been a huge transition for all of us, but could we handle another violent tornado like last year's? Cole County EMA Director Sierra Thomas said local and state agencies have been talking about the possibility for weeks.

“Initially I was a little uneasy because I was thinking how our resources have almost been completely tapped in response to that [COVID-19]," Thomas said. "But working with first responders, law enforcement, putting our heads together and trying to figure out how we would respond differently. Now with the new shipments of PPE coming in how we would respond safely, and I think we will do fine, now.”

First responders like firefighters already wear self-contained breathing equipment, and police would wear masks and gloves to help get victims out of damaged areas.

Former Cole County EMA Director Bill Farr said the threat of potential virus spread would have to be considered when bringing in the Red Cross and other outside volunteers.

“We, of course, have the volunteers coming in and we'd really have to take a look at some safety precautions because they're also going to have boots on the ground, but they're not trained in emergency response situations," Farr said. "We would have to look at different things like the feeding operations and shelters we had to do, social distancing would come into play with the volunteers that worked in the center and the people in the center."

The virus has kept many of us at home and more aware of bad weather, along with being steps away from our severe weather safe places, something important to everyone affected by the Jefferson City tornado.

“Even though people were initially, obviously, and rightly so freaked out about the pandemic, we've been using social media to push out a lot of notes and memos about 'don't forget it's tornado season or severe weather season.' So I think that while maybe the community is not hyper vigilant, but I think that they are taking that in consideration that it is a possibility, especially coming up on the year anniversary," Thomas said.

The average lead time for a tornado is about 13 minutes. You should still use that time to get to shelter since it's an imminent threat, even if you have to get closer than 6 feet from others.

“I would be more worried about the damage, and the death rate from a tornado incident rather than I would be with the virus, considering the fact that I wouldn't push social distancing as much if there was a tornado," Thomas said.

The American Meteorological Society put out a statement this spring regarding severe weather and the virus.

"Do not let the virus prevent you from seeking refuge from a tornado," the society said. "If a public tornado shelter is your best available refuge from severe weather, take steps to ensure you follow CDC guidelines for physical distancing and disease prevention."

Coronavirus / Jefferson City / May 2019 tornado / News / Special Report / Stormtrack Weather Special / Top Stories / Weather

Jessica Quick

Jessica Quick returned to ABC 17 News as chief meteorologist in 2019 after working here under Sharon Ray from 2014 to 2016.


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