For many, an approaching storm might be inconvenient -- a day when that afternoon at the dog park or the barbecue, camping trip or baseball game gets put on hold.
But for some, it can bring bursts of anxiety that weigh heavily on daily routine. Maybe it's that experience in a significant storm that triggers the stress, or perhaps it's fear of the thunder, the roaring winds, or of being hurt or having your home and property destroyed.
"Storm anxiety — that’s indeed a thing, and you need to empower yourself and take control of your stress," Dr. Joseph Alton, author of "The Survival Medicine Handbook," told FOX Weather.
And when the forecasts turn even direr amid threats of severe weather, the stress levels can become overwhelming.
There is no way to keep the severe weather from coming, but there are ways to empower yourself through knowledge and preparation to help deal with the anxieties.
"It can be helpful to think about what exactly it is about severe weather or storms that make you afraid, stressed or nervous," said meteorologists with the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma. "Knowing what it is that makes you stressed or anxious can help you find ways to deal with that stress and anxiety."
The meteorologists in Norman compiled an excellent resource webpage full of tips to help deal with storm anxiety.
Here are 7 of their more general tips to cope with storm stress and anxiety:
- Be prepared in advance: plan where you and your family would take shelter if a severe storm or tornado was imminent, and practice those plans on calm weather days when stress levels are low, so you know what to do when time is of the essence. If in a hurricane zone, plan potential evacuation routes ahead of hurricane season, and if in danger of winter storms, think about what supplies you'd need on hand if you were to be snowed in for days without power. Formulate a strategy of staying in contact should your area lose power, internet or cellular service.
- Make sure you have multiple ways to get weather warnings. A NOAA Weather Radio and a smartphone are two ways to get immediate alerts -- the FOX Weather App is among many that will give you immediate notification of any urgent warnings.
- Find trustworthy sources of weather information. Some who get anxious may want to consume as much information about the approaching storm via social media, but some social media posts from unofficial sources may focus on more extreme but less likely scenarios.
- Learn about storms. Understand how they are forecast and how watches and warnings work, and learn of the science of how severe weather predictions are made. "What stresses you most about the severe weather: Is it lightning? Is it thunder? Is it the wind?" Alton said. "Learn more about the storms so they are not a mystery to you and you know what to do before, during and after, to stay safe."
- Attend a spotter class: The NWS offers free spotter training classes to help residents learn more about severe weather -- and assist the National Weather Service track storms during significant events!
- Keep tabs on the storms: Learn how to use radar apps to track storms yourself to give you advanced warning of approaching severe weather -- or to know you might be in the clear. Again the FOX Weather App has a handy 3-D radar for tracking storms.
- Learn your local geography! (This was a big one for my anxiety): Memorize cities, towns, interstates and highways and especially the surrounding counties. Many severe weather alerts are issued by county, and knowing which counties are under current warning can be an early clue whether severe weather could be heading your way -- or just as importantly -- is not heading your way. TV stations cover a wide area, and severe weather cut-ins may often only be for storms affecting a small part of the region.
For those in Tornado Alley, the meteorologists in Norman also answer common questions from those who suffer storm anxiety, from concerns on how to shelter from storms ("I don't have a storm shelter," or "I'm afraid I'll be driving when a storm hits"), how to make sure you're getting and using the correct weather information ("How do I know if the storm is really dangerous?"), how to make sure you're receiving storm warnings ("I'm worried a tornado will drop out of the sky from any storm, and it will hit me with no warning"), and what to do if you're afraid you'll be separated from your family with no way to reach them.
Dr. Kevin Chapman with Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders tells FOX Weather exposure therapy can be another tool to help combat storm anxiety.
"Most people avoid (anxiety-inducing situations) because ‘I’ll avoid the thing that makes me uncomfortable therefore I get temporary relief,' " Chapman said. "But that backfires and perpetuates the fear and anxiety that I have. Confronting weather-related stimuli is important. Am I saying put yourself in a tornado? No. Am I saying put yourself in a situation that is actually dangerous? Absolutely not. What I am saying is you confront situations like storms that are not dangerous or a situation that I think is listening to the sirens, the sounds, the TV reports, bad storms on TV until my brain learns a new non-threatening association — in other words, I build my stress tolerance and my brain learns that I can disassociate stress from storms."
Nearly everyone feels at least a little storm anxiety
And know that you are not alone if you suffer from these anxieties. A 2014 study by Ball University found that 85% of people surveyed admitted at least some increased anxiety around severe storms, and about 2-3% of the population experience a more intense form of severe weather phobia.
Lorraine Andrews, who lives in Naples, Florida, has been through many hurricanes. But Hurricane Wilma left a mark. She was visiting family in Aventura when Wilma made a turn in track and roared into southern Florida.
"It hit where we were; it must have torn down every single tree in the area," Andrews said. "The wind -- it took so many trees. We went into a room with no windows -- we didn't want to hear any of the wind, so we stayed in that room… As soon as they said the wind was approaching Fort Lauderdale, we started hearing the tiles flying off the neighbor's roof and hitting our house."
Even meteorologists get nervous from time to time…
Storm stress even afflicts those whose job it is to forecast the storms.
"Where my family is located scattered across Oklahoma, I definitely find myself on the anxious side when looking at a model run or storms developing on radar heading in their direction," says FOX Weather Meteorologist Jordan Overton, "knowing as a meteorologist that conditions are conducive of significant weather."
I suffered quite a bit of storm anxiety as a teenager. I grew up in the coastal Pacific Northwest, where severe weather is rare, but I lived for three years in North Carolina, and my first experiences with severe thunderstorms were frightening, to say the least. That led to many sleepless nights and anxious days when thunderstorms were in the forecast.
I spent those years watching weathercasts every night and charting the storms on my maps to know when and where the storms might strike, so I could mentally prepare and not be surprised. Learning about storms not only sparked an eventual career but took some "fear of the unknown" away. We hope these tips can help those who feel anxious too.