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Posted at 07:43 PM ET, 07/06/2012

Weather and worrying: summertime storms alarm some, post-derecho


Maybe some of us have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or acute stress disorder (ASD)? After last Friday’s big time derecho complex rolled through, we learned about just how badly we could hurt, how badly our homes, trees, cars—our very infrastructure—could be damaged. Even now, a few thousand of us still don’t have power.

Meteorologists are also on-edge a bit - worried about missing any and all storms that approach our region. Have you had the sense of any false alarms being pulled since last Friday night?

Hypervigilance can be a symptom of PTSD! Not that I think we are truly that jarred. We just want to keep you safe but weather information sources do need to be careful not to ring too many false alarms.

We must ALL - meteorologists included - remind ourselves that weather…happens. In summertime, we have typical storms with brief downpours, some thunder and lightning. It is part of the atmosphere’s heat transport and water cycle, after all!

Not to say we don’t have reason to be a bit thrown off and uncomfortable—mentally and physically. It hasn’t helped that we’ve had extreme heat bubbling up right after the derecho along with an almost daily dose of more afternoon thunderstorms. These ingredients probably enhance the stress and, arguably, the trauma.

I can assure you, though, that during the summer we receive many afternoons and evenings of ordinary, pop-up thunderstorms that don’t reach severe criteria!

So, OK, we are not experiencing, collectively around the mid-Atlantic, a PTSD event on the same level as that after September 11. Nor are we as personally traumatized as a veteran might be returning home from war.

But, after speaking with my family and friends since last Friday night, I’ve observed some honest symptoms of stress and the disorder derived from reliving events laced with fear and dread. A normal thunderstorm will interrupt your plans. It could even cause a brief power outage for a few dozen folks.

I can only urge all of us to stay calm and to remember, statistically speaking, historically severe storms/derechoes don’t occur in D.C. but once per every few years, if not less frequently than that.

I know we are all shaken up a bit. I can see our reactions in the last week to lightning and sprinkles on the car windshield. I get it. Our brains immediately equate rain, thunder, lightning, and wind now with the thought path: no electricity>>spoiled food>>no internet>>cold shower water>>unwanted spending of money to cope (at a hotel or movie theater). A vast majority of us were reduced to living in lower standards than we were used to!


The brain is fascinating and complicated. Try to NOT avoid thinking about the triggering event that brings you anxiety. Burying it only prolongs the mental trauma, and can lead to PTSD.
I’m sure we all have varying degrees of stress and discomfort from this past week but just keep in mind that PTSD does affect the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves. There are three categories of very tangible symptoms: 1. “Reliving” the event, which disturbs day-to-day activity; 2. Avoidance & despondence; 3. “Arousal” disruptions of concentration and startling easily, losing sleep, irritable/angry, and hypervigilance.

PTSD can occur at any age and can follow a natural disaster, events of personal violence, or any type of emergency. This type of anxiety disorder is derived from seeing or experiencing any traumatic event that involves a threat of injury or death. One might have symptoms like anxiety, stress, and tension, agitation or excitability. PTSD & ASD symptoms can be reduced by encouraging to remember the traumatic event and expressing feelings about it. Over time, memories of the event should become less frightening.

While I can’t speak for all area meteorologists, I know that the Capital Weather Gang have been sifting through the data non-stop since Friday night. We want to provide more than the 8 hours. We don’t want the thunderstorms to strengthen as they approach our area and surprise anyone—even if they simply pop-up in typical summertime fashion from daytime heating.

We meteorologists are definitely on-edge and being hypervigilant. Even though we sift through the models and find Convective Available Potential Energy “CAPE” there is no guarantee severe weather will occur or what ingredients have yet to come together in the atmosphere to produce such a large Mesoscale Convective Complex (MCC). Meteorologists lately have joked “we are living in CAPE Fear”.

What was unfortunate recently is that our coping mechanisms were all decimated...because we lost power! It was a cruel cycle when the derecho left us scarred from experiencing such violent wind and storminess and then took away our ability to recover and cope.

How have you been coping? Would the heat wave since the derecho have been much less of a big deal had our power grid not been so damaged?

By  |  07:43 PM ET, 07/06/2012

Categories:  Latest, Thunderstorms, Health

 
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