Storm chasing and the 2020 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Dan Robinson

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Jan 14, 2011
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Storm chasing and the 2020 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic will significantly impact the activity of storm chasing during the 2020 spring season. The situation is changing rapidly. We will work to keep this page updated with the most recent information available. We urge all chasers to keep up with current travel restrictions and other important considerations outlined below before embarking on a storm chasing trip.

Information Last Updated Saturday, March 28, 2020 - 12:23PM CDT

As of March 16, 2020, the US Government is urging "no discretionary travel". Storm chasing can be considered discretionary travel. Chasing outside of one's home area may be inadvisable until this directive is lifted.

Warning to chasers: police have been pulling over drivers in some areas that are under shelter-in-place orders, threatening fines and arrest for those who do not comply. Tickets for "violating the governor's executive order", a misdimeanor, have been confirmed.

State-by-state restrictions in effect in the Great Plains and Midwest regions


cv-map328a.png

Details by state: "More info" links go to each state's COVID-19 resource site.

Orange: shelter-in-place orders in effect. Red: active enforcement of non-essential travel orders either officially announced or reported by citizens. Yellow: Mandatory quarantine orders for those arriving from certain areas out-of-state.
  • National: US government recommends "no discretionary travel"

  • Arkansas: no travel restrictions [ More info ]

  • Colorado: Stay-at-home order in effect statewide. Non-essential travel prohibited. Non-critical businesses closed. View the full order here. Stay-at-home order in effect in the cities of Denver and Boulder. View the full Denver order here. View the full Boulder order here. [ More Info ]

  • Illinois: Shelter-in-place order in effect statewide. No unnecessary travel. All non-essential businesses closed. The official order from the state prohibits all non-essential travel. It is, however, permitted to drive to outdoor recreation areas, providing social distancing with others outside of your household is strictly practiced. View the full order here. [ More info ]

  • Indiana: Stay-at-home order in effect statewide. Non-essential travel prohibited. All non-essential business closed. State police have publicly announced intentions to enforce the order. The official order from the state prohibits all non-essential travel. It is, however, permitted to drive to outdoor recreation areas, providing social distancing with others outside of your household is strictly practiced. View the full order here. [ More info ]

  • Iowa: Des Moines officials asked residents to voluntarily shelter-in-place, though there is not yet a formal order. No travel restrictions. [ More info ]

  • Kansas: Stay-at-home order in effect statewide. No non-essential activity outside of the home permitted. All non-essential businesses closed. Anyone who has been in any area with community spread of COVID-19 (California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New York, Washington state) must quarantine for 14 days after entering Kansas. Shelter-in-place order in effect in all counties within the Kansas City metro area. No unnecessary travel. All non-essential businesses in this location are closed. View quarantine order. View stay-at-home order. [ More info ]

  • Michigan: Stay-at-home order in effect statewide. Non-essential travel prohibited. Non-essential businesses closed. View the full order here. [ More info ]

  • Minnesota: Stay-at-home order in effect statewide. The order limits movement to essential services. View the order here. [ More info ]

  • Missouri: Social distancing order in effect statewide. Shelter-in-place order in effect in all counties within the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas. No unnecessary travel. All non-essential businesses in these locations are closed. Stay-at-home order in effect for Columbia (Boone County). View the full Kansas City order. View the full St. Louis order. View the Columbia order. [ More info ]

  • Montana: Stay-at-home order in effect statewide. Non-essential travel prohibited. Non-essential businesses closed. View the full order here. [ More info ]

  • Nebraska: no travel restrictions [ More info ]

  • New Mexico: Order in effect statewide for non-essential business to close. Voluntary stay-at-home order. No travel restrictions. View full order here. [ More info ]

  • North Dakota: no travel restrictions [ More info ]

  • Oklahoma: Governor ordered all non-essential businesses to close in counties that have at least one confirmed case of COVID-19. Order includes stay-at-home for vulnerable people in the population. The Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas are part of this order. Mandatory safer-at-home order in effect for Tulsa. Tulsa police announced they will enforce the order. Non-essential businesses closed. Read the full Tulsa order. Shelter-in-place order in effect in Norman. [ More info ]

  • South Dakota: no travel restrictions [ More info ]

  • Texas: Anyone arriving from areas with high COVID-19 case numbers (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Orleans) must quarantine for 14 days. Shelter-in-place order in effect in Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis and Tarrant Counties (most of the DFW metro). On March 24-25, there were numerous reports, including an officer quoted confirming the stops in local media, of drivers pulled over and in some cases ticketed for being out out for non-essential reasons. The police departments in the area later said that they would not be stopping people for reasons other than normal traffic violations nor setting up checkpoints. Stay-at-home orders also in El Paso, Houston, Waco, San Antonio, Austin and Beaumont/Port Arthur (outside of storm chasing regions). View Dallas order here. View Plano order here. View Denton order here. [ More info ]

  • Wisconsin: Safer-at-home order in effect (functionally the same as shelter-in-place). Avoid unnecessary travel. Non-essential businesses closed. View the governor's announcement here. [ More info ]

  • Wyoming: no travel restrictions [ More info ]

  • Plains/Midwest cities/counties with independent shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders:
    Boulder, CO: City limits - View order
    Dallas-Fort Worth: Most counties in metro area - View order
    Columbia, MO: Boone County - View order
    Denver: City limits - View order
    Denton, TX: Denton County - View order
    Kansas City: all counties in metro area* - View order
    Lawrence, KS: Douglas County* - View order
    Norman, OK: City limits - View order
    Plano, TX: Collin County - View order
    St. Louis: STL city/county - View order
    Tulsa: City limits - View order
    Wichita: Sedgwick County* - View order

    * Statewide Kansas stay-at-home order supersedes all local orders.
COVID-19 considerations for storm chasers
  • Travel to/from the Great Plains - Flying will be a problematic method of transportation as the virus spreads. In addition to the high risk of virus transmission on planes, it remains unknown how airlines and the government will curtail air travel to reduce the virus' spread. As of March 1, airlines and even Amtrak have started cutting back some service in response to reduced customer demand due to the virus. For those that typically fly from inside the US, driving may be the safer and more reliable way to make the trek to the Plains.

    UPDATE March 16: The US government has shut down all travel from Europe. Canada has closed its borders.
    UPDATE March 24: US airlines are considering a total shutdown of domestic passenger service, but this has not yet been announced.

  • Isolation/Quarantine for infected persons - A chaser who contracts the virus or is exposed to it will be sidelined for weeks in isolation/quarantine. Source: CDC

  • Roadblocks/lockdowns/restrictions: Lockdowns and other restrictions are increasingly being implemented across the country at state, city and county levels. New restrictions are announced almost daily. A chaser on a long out-of-state trip could run afoul of one or more of these at any time. Update March 18: The President announced new guidelines urging Americans to avoid discretionary (unnecessary) travel. See the list above for current shelter-in-place orders and lockdowns.

  • Service availability: Restaurants are being forced to close to at least dine-in customers in many areas and states. Hotels may also be affected by closures and shutdown orders. If medical services are overwhelmed, emergency personnel may not be able to respond to an accident. Services like towing, vehicle repair and roadside assistance may also be in very short supply or completely unavailable if businesses are ordered to close. Public restrooms may also be scarce - restaurant interiors are not open to the public, some gas stations have closed their restrooms, and many states are closing their rest areas and travel plazas.

  • Public perception: In any area with a ban on unecessary travel, traveling to storm chase in that area is a violation of the ban. Remote towns in the Great Plains may be some of the few places that don't have COVID-19 cases. An outside chaser may be seen as someone risking introduction of the virus into communities that would otherwise be safe. Young adults have been found to be a significant reservoir of asymptomatic carriers, and could truly pose a risk of unwitting virus transmission. With public anxiety and stress running high, the reaction to such a percieved incursion would likely be strong - ranging from bad press to physical threats.

  • Spotting: Acting as a local spotter would be a valid, low-risk way for chasers to participate in the season and serve the community in their home areas.
Protecting yourself and the public while storm chasing
  • Paper towels can provide a way to grip gas pumps, door handles or other objects that have been in contact with numerous other people. Having at least a couple of rolls in your vehicle would cover a 2-week trip. Sanitizing wipes can also be used at gas pumps. Health experts advise against using gloves: if not removed properly each time, disposable gloves can easily contaminate your hands. Re-using gloves can spread the virus.

  • Hand sanitizer can be a stand-in where handwashing with warm water and soap is not available.

  • Using knuckles instead of fingertips to press buttons at gas pumps, ATMs and phones can reduce the risk of contact transmission of the virus.

  • Using credit/debit cards to avoid handling cash and using ATMs

  • Vehicle camping, if you can manage it, to avoid hotels will further remove several virus transmission vectors.

  • Food supplies - As mentioned previously, many restaurants are being ordered to close to at least dine-in customers. Although the prospects for critical food shortages in the long term appear unlikely, carrying your own food will again enable the avoiding of restaurants (another transmission vector)
We're in uncharted territory regarding what life will be like during a pandemic, as will be the rest of the world. We'll keep this thread updated as things develop, feel free to contribute if you have relevant information to add.

The information in this article is being sourced by the Stormtrack forum membership.[/b][/B]
 
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rdale

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There is no precedent for flying within the US to be curtailed, nor have I seen any hints of that being proposed. If it's cross border transport that you are thinking would be prevented, that would be felt by drivers long before flyers. And as mentioned in the other thread, there's 0% chance of a city have blockades put around it.
 

Dan Robinson

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Jan 14, 2011
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I could see at times enough of the public avoiding air travel to the point of individual flights being cancelled, or airlines temporarily suspending service to acutely hard-hit metro areas. Seems like it's just an unknown at this point. Personally I'd be wary of flying anywhere even now.
 
I wonder how much testing they have tried with UV lighting? Some light bars around entrances or walkways might help with sterilization.

 
There are way too many unknowns to even guess where we will be with all this in the next 30-60 days. As for chasing, a lot depends on what is occurring on home fronts. For those who have to travel long distances, it might difficult to leave families or comfort zones. For those who live in the Alley where everything is a day drive, it will be much easier with maybe no issues at all. Unless you are driving into a "hot zone" city, I suppose you would have about the same odds of getting the virus at home (work, shopping, etc.) as you would on the road as long as you practiced the same virus avoidance. It would not surprise me if some TV News idiot theorizes if a tornado hits an area with virus victims it will spread the virus everywhere. You heard it here first!
 
There are way too many unknowns to even guess where we will be with all this in the next 30-60 days. As for chasing, a lot depends on what is occurring on home fronts. For those who have to travel long distances, it might difficult to leave families or comfort zones. For those who live in the Alley where everything is a day drive, it will be much easier with maybe no issues at all. Unless you are driving into a "hot zone" city, I suppose you would have about the same odds of getting the virus at home (work, shopping, etc.) as you would on the road as long as you practiced the same virus avoidance. It would not surprise me if some TV News idiot theorizes if a tornado hits an area with virus victims it will spread the virus everywhere. You heard it here first!
Would such a film be called 'Coronado'?
 
It would not surprise me if some TV News idiot theorizes if a tornado hits an area with virus victims it will spread the virus everywhere. You heard it here first!
This sadly has also crossed my mind a couple times over the last couple weeks. Similar to the "ebolacane" a couple years ago.

Those are all good points, Dan. Aside from the "vehicle camping", I pretty much do all of these already and it's not that hard to do. A little effort can go a long way to help reduce the risk of you having to sit a day or two out in a hotel because you caught a bug in the middle of your Plains trip. I bring my own food and drink because I'm just cheap, though :).
 
This sadly has also crossed my mind a couple times over the last couple weeks. Similar to the "ebolacane" a couple years ago.

Those are all good points, Dan. Aside from the "vehicle camping", I pretty much do all of these already and it's not that hard to do. A little effort can go a long way to help reduce the risk of you having to sit a day or two out in a hotel because you caught a bug in the middle of your Plains trip. I bring my own food and drink because I'm just cheap, though :).
As a truck driver when I'm at my day job, I'm very accustomed to bringing food with me on the road. Granted, I generally don't have enough time off to make an extended trip out of things, so I'm usually back home the same night as my chase, albeit late at times. As good as truck stop food can taste at times, I eat much healthier for a lot cheaper by packing food with me on the road.

Because of my job and how much I travel, it would be more likely that I'd catch it while working rather than chasing. That said, I'm sure if there is an instance where a town is heavily damaged due to a tornado, emergency responders probably will have something about that in the back of their mind, if the virus is still propagating like it currently is.
 
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It will be really interesting to see how this impacts the storm chasing tourism business. A large number of participants are from Europe and Asia. There is no way I would want to be packed in a van with people who have just flown in from inside or outside the US, especially if the virus moves through the US and Europe as predicted. Nor would I want to get back into the van everyday with someone who may not practice safe virus avoidance.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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I just have trouble believing this is going to turn into a huge deal, but what do I know. Hope is not a strategy and all that. If, God forbid, it turns into a bad situation, all bets are off. But as of right now I can't imagine foregoing my chase trip. If it was starting tomorrow, I certainly wouldn't cancel it. Like others have said, I think I would have an equal or greater chance of catching it in my normal day-to-day life in the Greater Philadelphia area than I would while chasing. Less-populated areas should be safer. Yes, hotels and restaurants and all that, but I eat out a lot in my normal day-to-day life too. I wouldn't worry about flying either, the flights are short and it's not airborne, you still need to have pretty close contact with someone don't you? A plane is not necessarily any worse than other public places where you are in close proximity to other people. My biggest fear about chasing is that I won't be able to go because of stuff going on at work; if I can actually get out there for even just a week, I am going to be ecstatic.
 
As bad as it sounds, if you have to get sick, you would likely be better off getting the virus sooner than later. Most people with complications will need a respirator. If I remember right when I completed by biological weapons course for my Tactical EMT certification, there are somewhere around 100,000 respirators in the US and at least 75% are in use. This was the problem in China and a known weakness in the US. I do feel for the people in 3rd. world countries. I've heard reports of the virus rampaging through Iran with little or no medical care, including wide spread sickness in prisons. It must be hell. I've also heard the Pope is sick after visiting Corona victims.

 
Jan 16, 2009
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Italy is already playing games with fans in the stands. A XFL concessions worker has the virus ... how many people did he serve? o_O
I can see sporting events and concerts in the US being impacted too. I think this virus does have a chance to disrupt all aspects of life to include storm chasing. I might just do like @Skip Talbot has done in the past and sleep in my vehicle. I will miss meeting up with people before and after but this might be our new reality.
 

Jeff Duda

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Italy is already playing games with fans in the stands. A XFL concessions worker has the virus ... how many people did he serve? o_O
I can see sporting events and concerts in the US being impacted too. I think this virus does have a chance to disrupt all aspects of life to include storm chasing. I might just do like @Skip Talbot has done in the past and sleep in my vehicle. I will miss meeting up with people before and after but this might be our new reality.
If a food server has the virus then what good will sleeping in your car do? If getting it from someone who serves food is your concern, then I would plan to take extra food with you on chase(s)( trips) so you don't have to enter any building or establishment to eat. It certainly is a healthier and cost-effective option. I actually often take a packed lunch (full of the same stuff I tend to eat for lunch regularly) with me on one-day chases so I only have to buy one meal on the road.

You are probably going to have a substantial negative anomaly of social contacts while actively storm chasing. If anything, continuing to chase should prove to be a healthier/smarter decision from a "social distancing" perspective.
 
Jan 16, 2009
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If a food server has the virus then what good will sleeping in your car do? If getting it from someone who serves food is your concern, then I would plan to take extra food with you on chase(s)( trips) so you don't have to enter any building or establishment to eat. It certainly is a healthier and cost-effective option. I actually often take a packed lunch (full of the same stuff I tend to eat for lunch regularly) with me on one-day chases so I only have to buy one meal on the road.

You are probably going to have a substantial negative anomaly of social contacts while actively storm chasing. If anything, continuing to chase should prove to be a healthier/smarter decision from a "social distancing" perspective.
You misunderstood or I wrote badly ... the food server was just a reference to a current event that might affect a lot of people that were at the game. How many things did he have contact with that people ate? Similar events are now changing how soccer is played in Italy with people not in the stands while the game is played. There is talk about delaying the Olympics and other events are also looking at how they will deal with a possible larger outbreak if it happens.

My thought about the virus and storm chasing is only IF it does become a major outbreak here in the USA. Everyone would have to make choices and changes in their daily life. My company has already sent emails about it and stopped international travel for work matters. We also have to let the company know if we are traveling out of the country. All this and it is barely even here.

I do think being out chasing is a lot better than being in KC like I am now.
 

Dan Robinson

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From Wichita's airport:

Changes in the airline industry due to COVID-19 are happening daily if not hourly. These changes are reducing travel demand and forcing airlines to reduce schedules.

This article indicates that as of right now, the only travel restrictions being imposed on would-be fliers are those who have traveled to known outbreak locations. The only flight service disruptions currently are from reduced demand. That could change, however, as the article warns.
 

Todd Lemery

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I heard something today that made sense to me. The doctor said to just avoid large crowds and don’t worry too much about traveling. His point was that the odds of you catching this or any other virus doesn’t increase because you aren’t in your hometown. Having a burger at your local pub is no different than a different pub in XXX town USA. The exception to this of course is if there is a known outbreak in that particular area.
 
When out chasing, the UV light "blue sky bust" days should help sanitize...

But the role of sunlight is also another aspect that helps to deter and destroy viruses, including coronaviruses. Sunlight, which is less prevalent in the wintertime, actually helps to destroy viruses that land on surfaces.

Ultraviolet (UV) light helps to clean or sterilize surfaces, by breaking down proteins, but ultimately attacking the molecular bonds in their building blocks: DNA and RNA.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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I heard something today that made sense to me. The doctor said to just avoid large crowds and don’t worry too much about traveling. His point was that the odds of you catching this or any other virus doesn’t increase because you aren’t in your hometown. Having a burger at your local pub is no different than a different pub in XXX town USA. The exception to this of course is if there is a known outbreak in that particular area.
I was actually thinking that very same thing today, convincing myself that I don't need to worry about upcoming trips to NYC and to Long Island. Of course, going somewhere that already has reported cases is more concerning than staying in your local area that does not. Still, at this stage it would be quite a low probability of coming into contact with someone else that has it even in a city with known cases.

The food analogy also applies to people - I might come into contact with 10 different people in my home town, or 10 different people in a town I am visiting. It doesn't make a difference, my odds of contracting it are roughly the same (assuming the cities in question have a similar level of outbreak).

However, when you view it in the other direction - i.e., potentially infecting others - the same logic probably does not apply because you would want to contain it within a particular area if possible.

Ironically, if it becomes more widespread, travel should be less worrisome, because then it's already too late for geographical containment and the risk level is more homogeneous across regions.
 
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Jul 5, 2009
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Just an aside that it's nice we can discuss this. Clearly it is only tangentially related to chasing (and there's a separate chasing-specific thread now anyway). But it's nice that as an online community we can discuss it. We are bound by being like-minded people with a shared love of severe weather and chasing, and we congregate here to discuss a big non-chasing issue just like we would discuss current events with our offline friends. It's a wonderful thing when you think about it, regardless of whether we agree on the threat level or what to do about it.