Have I Developed Weather Worry?

Over the last few years, weather forecasters and technology have combined to make sure all of us know as much as possible about the weather. Forecasters use impressive words like “Titan Doppler” and “Storm Team” to send a message: “Trust us, It’s Going to be Really, Really Bad…..Stay Tuned.” Is it possible that all these warnings have caused you to fret with weather worry?

Of course, real weather dangers exist. Tornados, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, and tsunamis kill people, destroy property, and ruin lives. When these kinds of dangers happen, all of us must find ways to stay safe: finding shelter, stay inside, or leave our home.

But, does every storm pose an increased danger compared to other weather events? What’s the evidence that a snow storm might hurt you? According to the Federal Highway Administration, wet roads (not snow covered roads) are pretty dangerous:

  • From 2002 to 2012, there are an average of 4,789 deaths per year associated with wet pavement, and 2,867 deaths per year with rain.
  • In comparison, the total average deaths per year form 2002 to 2012 for Snow/Sleet/Icy Pavement/Slushy conditions was 1921 persons (less than half the deaths from just wet conditions).

What are weather worry thoughts?

Of course, maybe fewer folks drive when it’s snowing, but the numbers suggest it’s much more dangerous when the roads are wet than when snowy.

Are there other problems more dangerous than a weather event? According to the CDC, in 2012, 3228 people died in crashes related to distracted driving (texting, on the phone, etc.). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2013, alcohol impaired drivers with a BAC of .08 or lower accounted for 11,896 deaths on the road. Their data from 2009 indicates that being on the road between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. is by far the most likely time to be in danger of dying in an alcohol-impaired traffic accident.

Any death is unfortunate, and if one can be prevented, then it should be prevented. But when we spend so much of our emotional and mental energy to decide which risks to take, snow on the roads might pose a lower-risk than other situations like driving-while-texting. Many of us have learned to become just as afraid of low-risk weather as we have of really dangerous weather events (hurricanes, etc.)—we’ve developed Weather Anxiety.

“Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid…”

Sometimes, the information we receive makes lots of us more afraid. For example, 40{91296f785244d6cfff9a6bde07d2768534b07e6eb740c7b271fb89c5be621100} of Texans say they are afraid of the weather (insurance study of weather anxiety). But are as many Texans afraid of texting while driving? Probably not. Some might say that we’ve become pathologic weather worriers.

Weather Worry

Occasional concerns are normal, but weather worry consists of:

  • The Thought Storm Begins–Repetitive ideas about weather that make us fearful that we find hard to control at the time
  • Twister Reloaded”–Images or mental videos of weather catastrophes that trigger worry
  • The Thought Storm Builds–Weather thinking gets “bigger” with lots of words
  • Magical Solution–Believing that the more you worry about the weather the more you’re preventing a weather related catastrophe
  • Doomsday Prepping–“Safety” steps you take which seem to prevent bad weather catastrophes
  • Into the Storm Cellar–Finding ways to escape from the weather to keep from being upset about the weather
  • Neverminding the Morning After–Ignoring the reality that your worry thoughts never, or almost never, come true

Does Watching the Media Contribute to Weather Worry?

TV is a business…..what is on TV has to be watched by enough people that money can be made through sales of advertising. So how do news shows get you to watch?

  • Scare Folks About the Weather: One way seems to be to create fears about the weather with reporting about how a storm threatens our safety and wellbeing—not just a little threat, but a big “Oh My God” size threat.
  • Use Attention Grabbing (and Scary) Words: Replace words like “after” with “in the wake of,” and “radar” with “Titan Storm Tracking”
  • Create a “Weather” brand for your TV station (http://www.weathermetrics.com/marketing/branding): Make sure your “weather brand” includes the people better watch your weather show to be safe from catastrophe

According to Slate, obsession with the weather has made weather checking the sixth most commonly performed on line activity (Slate article on weather checking). The media make it easy to check, and check, and check the weather.

In the world of unhealthy anxiety, one sign of excessive worry is a “safety behavior.” Safety behaviors trick us into believing that things like checking the weather make the world safer—as if the checking prevents a weather “catastrophe.” So if we spend that much time checking the weather forecast, then media stations probably want to use the weather to build followers and viewers. Making it seem as if the worst will happen unless you keep posted with their app or news alerts is good business.

What if I’ve Developed Weather Worry?

There are several steps you can take to gain control of your fretting about the weather:

  • Check out your thoughts, and if you find them exaggerating what is likely to happen, replace them with more realistic ideas
  • Decrease your frequent monitoring of weather by setting up a few times to check, and only when “bad weather happens”
  • Create a realistic notion of how likely any catastrophe might strike
  • Take realistic steps to be safe when weather is predicted to be dangerous
  • Avoid a “snow buddy” reaction—don’t overcome fear by inviting a stranger into your home to “weather the storm.”

Of course, you must seek shelter in a dangerous storm, or leave an area when a hurricane or flood is imminent. And we rely on the great work done by the media to get the information to us. This blog isn’t trying to minimize real weather dangers…..but remember, worrying and checking your storm-tracker app won’t change the weather.

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