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Storm Fears: Survey Explores Weather Phobia

One way to spot potential severe-weather phobics is to look for their constant monitoring of TV, radio or Internet forecasts during a storm. Of course, the same is true for fearless storm chasers and other people who love nature's wrath and don't want to miss a drop of it.

But there are other signs of severe-weather phobia, according to a new study led by psychologist John Westefeld at the University of Iowa.

Of 139 people surveyed, 89 said a good storm sometimes or occasionally gets their heart pounding, and 65 said they panic now and then.

Name That Fear
There is no scientific term for the fear of severe weather. There are names for specific fears, however:

Other sensations, and the number of respondents who occasionally or sometimes feel them:

  • Helplessness: 46
  • Sweating: 23
  • Shortness of breath: 19
  • Unable to eat: 14
  • Nausea: 9

Those truly frightened by weather are known to avoid picking their children up from school during a storm. Some just pick up and move to places they hope will be less stormy, Westefeld and his colleagues report.

These are the rare few, of course. In the survey, they probably correspond to the one or two respondents who report always experiencing the above feelings.

The study was limited in scope. Most of the respondents were college students. The age range was 17-51, however. The survey questions were based on a similar but less comprehensive study done in 1996, which also found that people often thought they were alone with their storm fears.

Overall, the researchers said 73 percent of the survey participants had "a little bit" or "moderate" fear of weather, while 24 percent had none. Just 3 percent were labeled as fearing Mother Nature "quite a bit."

The results are detailed in the June issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

More to Explore (not for the phobic!):

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.