At a Glance
The pandemic took hold just as severe weather season kicked off.
2020 brought record fires, hurricanes and heat waves.
Sheltering was especially complicated.
The coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States in March, just as the annual severe weather season was kicking off.
At the same time states were issuing lockdowns, closing schools and telling everyone to stay home, forecasters were warning of tornadoes and flooding and, as the year went on, hurricanes, heat waves and wildfires.
Officials worried that people would be reluctant to leave their homes in case of an evacuation. Some communities said they wouldn’t open shelters, and if they did, they should only be used as a last resort.
Health departments, emergency management agencies, the National Weather Service, the American Meteorological Society, FEMA and the CDC all chimed in, offering advice and safety procedures for sheltering.
Like so many things in 2020, the new coronavirus made weather-related emergencies and disasters more complicated. And of all the years, this was the one that had to have a record string of tropical storms and hurricanes, some of the hottest temperatures ever seen on Earth and a wildfire season like no other.
Here’s a look at the ways COVID-19 and weather collided during a year that will go down in the history books for both.
Hotel Rooms Instead of Shelters
The American Red Cross provided more than 1 million overnight stays to people during weather-related evacuations this year, four times the annual average over the past 10 years.
“2020 was an unprecedented year on so many levels, and disaster response-wise [it] was no different,” Red Cross spokesperson Greta Gustafson told weather.com in a recent interview.
The agency, accustomed to helping run shelters where cots are laid out in tight rows and crowds of people are fed en masse, changed it up this year to accommodate social distancing, in many cases setting up check-in points where people were handed hotel vouchers.
In the biggest disasters the Red Cross responded to – wildfires in California and Oregon and hurricanes in Louisiana – 90% of the overnight stays were in individual hotel rooms, Gustafson said.