Covering Disasters Workshop Series: Reporting on Disasters during COVID-19

Apr 16, 2020

Social distancing, shelter-in-place orders, and travel restrictions are complicating preparations for and responses to extreme weather and disasters, including a powerful, damaging storm system that recently swept across the country.

Social distancing, shelter-in-place orders, and travel restrictions are complicating preparations for and responses to extreme weather and disasters. The American Meteorological Society (AMS), the scientific organization representing about 12,000 meteorologists, issued a statement that people should use public tornado shelters if they’re the best refuge available, despite coronavirus fears. And the American Red Cross is creating new protocols for evacuation shelters, including when possible, to use hotels or other alternatives like dorms to shelter people.

Climate Central and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) held an online briefing on April 8, 2020, to help journalists report on local emergency planning efforts during the pandemic and to cover disasters effectively and safely when they occur. Our experts discussed a wide variety of disasters, including hurricanes, heat waves, tornadoes, flooding, and wildfires.




Climate change is exacerbating the threat of compounding disasters. As carbon pollution traps heat and increases temperatures, that increases the evaporation of water from soil. This can result in heavier downpours and worsen flooding when there is a trigger for rain, but also lead to worsening droughts, wildfires and heat waves. And the warming of ocean water and melting of land-based ice  is raising sea levels and can increase wind speeds and the amount of rainfall during hurricanes. While there are still questions as to how climate change is impacting tornadoes, research indicates possible changes in tornado outbreak location and seasonal timing.

Climate Central’s Media Library contains localized data, analyses and multimedia — all grounded in science — to help you understand and share the story of our changing climate. 

Climate Central also offers extreme weather toolkits


Back to Top


Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has a webinar series for journalists reporting on COVID-19. Resources and educational materials include self-care advice and tip sheets for both news managers and reporters covering pandemics.

The Society of Environmental Journalists has a list of resources for journalists covering COVID-19.

Grants available for covering COVID-19

A collection of media guidance and shared resources for reporters and newsrooms in covering COVID-19 (thanks to the Pulitzer Center for this list):

Back to Top


The International Association of Emergency Managers has created a page of resources for their members, including webinars and links to national and international health and safety guidance on COVID-19. You can contact their media office to find local emergency managers or experts in your area.

The EPA provides a list of emergency response commissions’ contact information for each state.

The American Association of State Climatologists is a professional scientific organization composed of all 50 state climatologists

The SciLine service, 500 Women Scientists or the press offices of local universities may be able to connect you with local scientists or climatologists who have expertise on extreme weather events or disasters in your area.

Tornado sheltering guidelines during the pandemic have been posted by the American Meteorological Society (AMS).

Back to Top


Below is a collection of recent articles exploring disaster preparedness and response during the COVID-19 epidemic.


'Hope Isn't A Strategy.' How To Prepare For A Natural Disaster During COVID-19, by Nathan Rott, NPR

As Natural Disasters Strike, a New Fear: Relief Shelters May Spread Virus, by Chris Flavelle, New York Times


Protecting the First Responders, by Ryan Pfeil, in Medford, Oregon’s Mail Tribune

“Climate Change Is Exacerbating…Risks”: Stressed by Coronavirus, First Responders Prep for a Dangerous Summer, by Elizabeth Royte, Vanity Fair

How the Coronavirus Crisis May Hinder Efforts to Fight Wildfires, by Kendra Pierre-Louis, New York Times

How do bushfire victims follow COVID-19 social distancing measures after losing their homes? by Joanna Woodburn and Claire Wheaton, ABC (Australia) Central West

Riverine Flooding

The Midwest Is Preparing To Get Hit With Major Floods During The Coronavirus Outbreak, by Zahra Hirji, Buzzfeed News

New UCS Analysis: Coronavirus and Flooding Set to Collide in US, blog by Kristy Dahl, Senior Climate Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists 


Hurricane Season on Top of a Pandemic Will Be a Nightmare, by Yessenia Funes, Gizmodo

The Looming Hurricane Season and COVID-19 Coronavirus, by Marshall Shepherd, Forbes


Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Rethink your options for severe weather by Dale Denwalt, The Oklahoman

Should storm shelters open in Tornado Alley amid the coronavirus crisis? by Matthew Cappucci, Washington Post

Should You Use Public Tornado Shelters During The Coronavirus Pandemic? by Marshall Shepherd, Forbes

Back to Top


Robert Dale, PEM, Emergency Management Planner/Meteorologist, Ingham County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Michigan,

Dr. Samantha Montano, assistant professor of Emergency Management & Disaster Science at University of Nebraska, Omaha,

Jim Whittington, Whittington & Associates, former public information officer, and specialist on incident management and risk/crisis communications.  

Judith Matloff, Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma safety advisor, Columbia Journalism School faculty (crisis reporting), author of How to Drag a Body and other Safety Tips You Hope to Never Need, 

Steve Sapienza, Senior Strategist, Collaborative News Partnerships, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting,  

Back to Top