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Battling a fear of storms


Natalie Thomas, reporter
May 6, 2012 — While it's important to prepare our homes for potential emergencies, some people also need to prepare their minds and emotions.


Dr. Hill estimates that as much as 10% of the population suffers from a weather phobia
Dr. Hill estimates that as much as 10% of the population suffers from a weather phobia

Stacey Pearson has more than a simple fear of storms.

Some might even call her phobic.

She says she can get apprehensive when rain shows up in the local forecast.

“I wonder: is it going to turn into a storm? Is that storm going to turn into something else?" she says. "It does affect my daily living sometimes. Especially if I see [rain] in the future, I worry about it all week.”

Stacey wasn’t always afraid of storms. In fact, she used to like them.

But something changed last summer. She woke up one night to the sound of thunder, turned on The Weather Network and saw that there was a tornado warning issued for her city.

“I was sort of confused and didn't really know what to do,” Stacey remembers.

Now she lives in fear of future tornado warnings.

Stacey admits that some people don’t understand how she feels.

“They think that I'm just being silly, but I can't help it.”

One person who definitely understands is Dr. Julie Hill. Dr. Hill, a psychologist, says a phobia is a fear or anxiety that becomes so severe it actually interferes with a person's ability to function.

“In adulthood, fear of storms is relatively common,” Dr. Hill says. “It might even be as much as 10 percent of the population.”

Storm phobias are so common that even one of our own meteorologists here at The Weather Network had to struggle to get over her fear.

"When I was younger, whenever there was a thunderstorm coming through I would panic,” says meteorologist Dayna Vettese. “As soon as I heard thunder or saw lightning, it was instant, instant anxiety and panic for me.”

Weather Network meteorologist Dayna Vettese once struggled with a weather phobia
Weather Network meteorologist Dayna Vettese once struggled with a weather phobia

Dayna believes that learning more about weather helped her phobia develop into a love and fascination.

“I would definitely say my fear of storms is what got me interested in meteorology,” Dayna laughs. “I became so obsessed with knowing when the storms where coming, I had to know as much as I possibly could. So through high school I was reading, I was studying, I was learning anything I possibly could just to prepare myself for those storms. And because I started learning all this, I started becoming very fascinated in it.”

Dayna’s story provides hope to those who suffer with this phobia. Even Stacey hopes that by sharing her feelings, other people will benefit.

Stacey wants people to know that they're not alone in their fear.

“It's kind of comforting to know that other people do experience the fear. And if anybody has advice for me I would gladly take it to help me get over it. I hope it doesn't last forever.”

And it doesn’t have to last forever.

Dr. Hill says phobias can be successfully treated in three steps.

“The first is to learn relaxation techniques that can actually address the anxious symptoms that you're feeling,” Dr. Hill says. “The second is the cognitive part, which is to change the thinking pattern that's causing you to catastrophize about the event and put in something more reasonable and rational in your thinking process.

And then the third is to gradually expose yourself to the fearful event or stimulus so that you, in very successful small steps so that you can gradually be desensitized to the source of your fear.”

WEATHER PHOBIAS

One of the most common names for a fear of storms is astraphobia and it has been documented in both humans and animals. In severe cases, astraphobics can develop a secondary fear called agoraphobia - characterized by an extreme reluctance to leave the home. Countless support programs and exercises have been designed to help sufferers conquer their fear.

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