Top weather phobias explored: Millions of Americans experience these weather fears

By Bianca Barr Tunno, AccuWeather staff writer

As thunder rolls and lightning sparks the sky, some might find themselves in a state of panic. If the weather forecast calls for snow and ice, would you rush to buy bread and milk, then hunker down at home? When a tropical storm or hurricane is barreling toward your community, there may be no choice but to seek shelter or leave the area entirely.

And if you are afraid of weather events, your behaviors and choices during those times of emergency are often motivated by an instinctive process.

“If you perceive something that you believe is threatening, whether or not it is or isn’t, you have a natural response to that perception,” said Dr. Michelle Newman, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology and psychiatry at Penn State University. “Your body produces arousal – adrenaline – which is adaptive for humans in situations of ‘fight or flight.’ You will engage behaviors that will protect you and keep you safe.”

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According to a 2014 study published in the American Meteorological Society Journal, approximately one in 10 Americans may suffer from some degree of severe weather fear. Researchers from Ball State University and the University of Kansas said study participants reported feelings of anxiety and helplessness, increased heart pounding and the need to change their schedules when faced with a severe weather event. The most common behavior surrounding these weather events was constant monitoring of television, radio, internet or weather applications, according to researchers. They interviewed almost 300 people in 43 states.

The study reported: “…When not debilitating, some fear can be a substantial motivator to encourage individuals to take action against the threat, such as seeking shelter.”

And Newman, who specializes in anxiety disorders, agrees.

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“Trying to stay calm but acting in those cases is absolutely optimal,” Newman told AccuWeather. “After the situation is over, don’t avoid anything related to the experience: don’t avoid talking about it and don’t avoid hearing about other types of storms on the news because all of that avoidance feeds your fear.”

So staying apprised of the situation is one way to calm a human mind. However, what about if a pet is in the mix? Rochelle Morrissey, a veterinarian in Oakland, California, told AccuWeather that dogs in particular deal with storm phobias and sometimes get downright terrified.

“Some dogs will just hide but other dogs will get into self-destructive behavior where they will start destroying the house or injure themselves trying to get out of the house,” Morrissey said.

She said she’s treated dogs that have broken off teeth trying to chew their way out of crates and others that have jumped through plate glass windows during thunderstorms.

Morrissey said pets may panic because they do not have the capacity to understand what is going on and pet owners have to create an action plan to keep their animals calm.

“Try to have distractions on if you know a storm is coming,” she said. “Keep the TV on. Keep the radio on. Try to dissociate when a storm is coming. Associate with positive things. Have someone at home to pet them and give them treats.”

And if those suggestions don’t work, sometimes medication is coupled with training to help animals with anxiety.

“A lot of people don’t always realize pets get anxiety the same way people do so you need to help them cope with it.”

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