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The Stress of Severe Weather

It’s coming up to that time of year in many places of the country — tornado season. The southern states have already experienced some storms; Oklahoma was struck by a deadly twister just before Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s time to get the flashlights, portable radios, and your tornado safety plan ready. It’s also time to get your severe weather stress plan in place.

For those of you who experience hurricanes each summer and fall, this is your respite time. You won’t really need to be ready for another few months at least. However, even you need to watch for tornadoes and dangerous lightning. Severe thunderstorms can get stirred up so quickly, it really pays to be watchful. Regardless of your particular peril, the mental aspect of severe weather can be harsh.

I’m no meteorologist, but I did grow up on a farm. We knew that bad weather was something to be respected. It could result in the loss of life and the loss of a livelihood. This is true in many parts of the country, though people in the famed Tornado Alley are particularly on the alert when spring rolls around.

Different Kinds of Mental Stress From Severe Weather

To be fully prepared for the severe weather season, it is helpful to recognize a few different types of mental stress that can occur. First, there is anticipatory stress. You know there is a watch box over your county, and you are wondering what would happen if you got caught on the interstate in a storm later today. This stress is often minor, manageable, and can motivate you to plan ahead. Altering your plans can reduce this stress so you feel more in control and with good access to a safe location.

When you anticipate bad weather and relatively little happens, this sense of alert can come and go quickly with little effect. As long as you don’t hear that loud beep on the TV and you don’t see bad clouds, you are likely to get distracted and not get too worried. When you have repeated alerts week after week or all night long, this can get exhausting. It is difficult and draining to pay so much attention to an impending threat. Even if nothing happens, eight hours of close calls can be nervewracking.

Another kind of severe weather stress is an acute experience. Your house gets hit by a tornado and you go into shock. Your town’s siren goes off, you dive to the basement, waiting in terror through the hailstorm and hoping you don’t hear the sounds of destruction over your head. You are on vacation and get a call from family as they experience the full brunt of a destructive storm in your hometown.

All of these experiences can be fully charged with emotion, adrenaline, and stark images or sounds. You may have a hard time getting that siren sound to stop ringing in your head. You may start getting jittery when you hear the wind pick up, remembering how the wind sounded after it blasted through your living room window. You may not be able to sleep for all the worries, feelings, and questions you have in your mind after the storm has blown through.

In the aftermath of a destructive storm, the drama gradually fades. Buildings get repaired, tree limbs get picked up, glass gets vacuumed out of carpets, and the rescue teams leave town. But for you, the emotional toll keeps on going. You might start reconsidering where you live, reconsidering your career, staying away from social activities because you are still in a funk. The storm has blown holes in your sense of peace, and you are having trouble regaining that.

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The Stress of Severe Weather

Erika Krull, MSEd, LMHP

Erika Krull, MSEd, LMHP is a copywriter for healthcare and mental health content. She specializes in creating content marketing pieces for mental health and healthcare businesses including website content, blog posts, long-form researched articles, and e-learning content. She received her MSEd in Community Counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

APA Reference
Krull, E. (2018). The Stress of Severe Weather. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.