National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Advice from Meteorologists on Dealing with Storm Anxiety

In our area, we will see storms every year, and unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to stop them. This can make you feel powerless. But there is a way to empower yourself and that’s through knowledge and preparation. It can be helpful to think about what exactly it is about severe weather or storms that makes you afraid, stressed or nervous, Knowing what it is that makes you stressed or anxious can help you find ways to deal with that stress and anxiety.

Tips to empower you if you have specific concerns about...

 

Introduction

 

Here are some things you can do to empower yourself and take more control over your weather fears:

  • Advance preparation – thinking about where you will take shelter, making sure you have several ways to get weather warnings and information, and having a plan for you and your family – can help reduce your fear and stress levels when storms are in the area. Planning and preparation puts you in control of your situation and can make the storms a little less scary.

  • Think about what stresses you out the most about severe weather. For some people, it’s the sound of thunder, the flashes of lightning or the roar of the winds. For others, it’s the anticipation and uncertainty about what might happen to them or their family. If there is something that makes your fears worse that you can control, this might help you.

  • Learn about the storms. Understand how they are forecast and what the various watch, warning and advisory terms mean. Follow the National Weather Service severe weather outlooks and forecasts online and learn about the science that goes into those severe weather predictions. Attend a free NWS storm spotter training class to learn more about tornadoes and severe storms.

  • Many people who are afraid of storms want all the information they can get their hands on when severe weather is in the forecast. With social media, there are many sources of weather information to choose from. Some are considered official sources, like the NWS, your favorite TV station or local TV meteorologist, or your local emergency management or public safety agencies in your community, and these are generally good places to get weather information. A small percentage of social media forecasts tend toward the extreme or worst case scenario when forecasting severe weather. If you have storm anxiety, these might make things worse.

  • Visit your local National Weather Service office. Meet the forecasters who are working around the clock to watch for dangerous weather and who have your back during severe weather.

  • Make a tornado safety plan with your family. On a sunny day with no storms in the forecast, figure out where you will take shelter if a tornado is coming your way. Practice getting you, your family and your pets to that safe place. Put together a safety kit that has the supplies you would need if you had to take shelter.

  • Plan how you and your family will stay in contact in case you lose electricity, phone service, cable or satellite service, cell service or internet service. Develop a communication plan in case you are separated.

  • Make sure you have at least three different ways to get a warning. This can include local television, NOAA Weather Radio, phone apps, outdoor warning sirens, community notification systems, etc

  • Learn about your local warning systems in your community - sirens, mass notification systems, etc - and how they work.

  • Find a way to see radar data and learn to track the storms yourself. There are lots of apps that provide detailed radar data, and some of them will even plot your current location so you will always know where you are in relation to the storms. You can also access free radar data on the National Weather Service website and on your favorite local TV station’s website.

  • Learn your local geography - nearby cities and towns, counties, interstates and highways - to make it easier to track the storms as they move through the area. Understanding where the storms are and where they’re going can make severe weather much less stressful.

 


Concerns About Sheltering from Storms

 

I don't have a storm shelter.

 

Most communities in our area don't have public shelters, but some do. Check with your local emergency manager or fire department to see if there are public storm shelters near you.

If you live in a well built home, there's probably a safe area in your home that would protect you from almost any tornado. Look for a small room or closet on the lowest floor and away from outside walls, doors and windows. There are no safe areas in any mobile home and you should not attempt to shelter from a tornado in a mobile home.

If you live in an apartment or rental housing, ask the manager if there is a shelter for residents to use, either on property or nearby. If you live in a mobile home park, check to see if there is a community shelter on the property.

Check with with co-workers, friends and family in the immediate area to see if they have a shelter that you can use, or even just a place to go where you would feel safer.

Do not assume that public buildings are storm shelters.

If you will have to drive to get to your shelter, plan ahead - you cannot wait until the warning is issued. Figure out where you will go to be safe and go there long before the warning is issued for where you are.

 

I'm nervous about being away from a storm shelter on a severe weather day.

 

Forecasters usually have a pretty good idea of what time of day to expect storms. Find a weather information source you trust and keep an eye on those timing forecasts.

When possible, plan your day to ensure you'll be close to your shelter during the time storms are expected.

 

I'm afraid I'm going to be driving when a tornado or bad storm happens.

 

On most severe weather days, meteorologists will know the general time frame when storms are expected. Use that information to help plan your day.

Think about how might adjust your schedule to reduce your chances of in a storm. Can you leave work early to be sure you're home in plenty of time before the storms are expected? Should you delay or cancel an afternoon or evening activity that will put you on the road when storms are expected?

 

I have access to a storm shelter, but I'm stressed because I don't know when I should go to shelter. I don't want to go too soon but I don't want to wait too long, either.

 

When you go to shelter depends on how far away your shelter is. If it's in the garage, you can wait longer than if it's in the backyard. If your shelter is down the street or across town, you will have to go much sooner to allow plenty of time.

You don't have to wait for a warning, a siren or any other signal. You can take shelter whenever you want to.

Of course, this is more complicated when you have to deal with pets, children, the elderly or others who may have trouble accessing the shelter quickly.

Do not wait for a siren to take shelter. If a tornado warning is issued for where you are, or if there's a tornado warning with a storm that's headed your way, consider going to shelter sooner rather than later.

 

I'm worried that I may not get enough warning to allow me to get to shelter in time.

 

Don't rely on just one source for your warnings. Have multiple ways to get a warning for your location.

Consider going to shelter when the storms are in the next county over from you. You don't have to wait until the warning is for your county. This may mean you go to shelter more often and sooner than you need to, but being in your shelter with plenty of time to spare will make things less stressful.

If your shelter plan involves driving somewhere else, you have to go early. You cannot wait until the warning is issued.

 

I’m worried I won’t be able to get my pets to shelter in time.

 

Pack a go-bag for your pets with everything they would need if they had to go to shelter, including food, water, medications, leash, pet carrier, toys, etc. Do this long before the storms arrive and have it ready to go so you’re not scrambling to find everything during a warning.

On a nice weather day, practice getting your pets into shelter and see how long it takes and if you’re going to have any problems.

Wherever your shelter is, be sure you allow plenty of time to go to shelter, even if it means going before there’s even a warning for your county.

 

What if I’m trapped or buried in my shelter?

 

Many communities in our area have storm shelter registration programs. These programs let you register your shelter location with your local emergency manager or fire department. This database will help them know which homes have shelters to search in the rare event the worst case happens.

 

If there’s a large violent tornado, I’ll die if I’m not below ground.

 

Violent tornadoes (EF4 and EF5) are very dangerous, but thankfully they’re also exceptionally rare. In our area, less than 2% of tornadoes ever get that strong, and less than 1% are classified at the top of the scale - EF5. Your chances of ever being affected by a violent tornado are very very small. And even if you are impacted, a violent tornado does not mean certain death.

Even if the exceptionally rare violent tornado happens, the area that will be impacted by the EF4 or EF5 intensity winds will be tiny compared to the overall path. The December 10, 2021 tornado did not produce EF4 damage along the entire path, but only certain locations.

Every tornado deserves respect, and if you’re in the path of one you should take shelter. An underground storm shelter or engineered concrete/steel above ground safe room is the safest place. If you don’t have access to one of those, get to a sturdy building and take cover on the lowest floor. Put as many walls between you and the tornado as you can. Stay away from outside walls, doors and windows. Cover your head and upper body with sleeping bags, couch cushions, pillows or blankets. If you have a helmet - baseball, football, motorcycle, etc - wear it to protect your head.

 


Concerns About Getting/Using Weather Info

 

Sometimes the local TV stations don't talk about the storms in my area as much as I'd like. How am I supposed to know what's going on?

 

Television is one of the best ways to get weather information, but it's not the only way. You should have multiple ways to get warnings and weather information.

You can get warnings and other weather information through a variety of free phone apps, on websites, on NOAA Weather Radio and through social media. There are also websites and phone apps that allow you to track storms on radar.

 

I'm not familiar with the local area enough to know where all the counties and cities and highways are that they talk about when showing storms.

 

Grab a state highway map (or find one online) and use it to help you track storms. Be sure to get one that has county outlines and names, since warnings and other information use counties to describe the locations.. Be sure you know what county you're in, and also those around you, especially to the northwest, west and southwest (the directions storms usually come from.)

Meteorologists also refer to cities and towns, interstates and state highways when describing storm locations and movement, so it's a good idea to know a little bit about the highways and towns near you.

Knowing more about your local geography can help reduce stress during severe weather. If you know a storm is not going to affect you, that's one less storm to worry about.

Remember that maps on your phone probably won't have the county lines or county names, and warnings and watches are described by county.

Think about getting a radar app for your phone. Many of them allow you to plot your exact location on the radar screen so you can always see where you are in relation to the storms.

 

How do I know when the forecast is bad enough that I should change my plans?

 

Making decisions based on a weather forecast can be a little tricky, and for severe weather it's usually best to lean toward the "better safe than sorry" approach.

Whether the weather could be bad enough to cause you to need to change your plans depends on many different of factors - what time of day the storms are expected, will you be near a shelter, will you have a way to hear warnings, will you be driving, etc. It also depends on what kind of bad weather is expected and how that would impact you - tornadoes, hail, wind, lightning, flooding, etc.

 

I just moved here and I'm not familiar with the local weather patterns. I don't know what I should be watching for.

 

Take a free National Weather Service storm spotter training class. These are usually offered in the early spring and provide great information about the storms in our area.

Get advice from friends or family who have lived here for a while.

Find good reliable sources of local weather information.

 

How am I supposed to know which storms are the really dangerous ones?

 

Find a reliable local source of weather information you trust. Obviously storms with tornado warnings always deserve special attention and action if you're in the path. You should also be paying attention to severe thunderstorm warnings, since they will be used to tell you about storms capable of producing dangerous winds and damaging hail.

There's a lot of detailed information available in the actual full text version of a National Weather Service warning that you may not see on a TV crawl or an app. Each warning will provide details on whether we're expecting hail or wind, and, if so, how bad will it be. The warning details why the warning was issued, where the storm is, which way it's moving and who's in the path.

 

Facts about tornadoes and the outlook-watch-warning system.

  • Most storms will not produce a tornado. Tornadoes - especially the dangerous ones - only form under a special set of weather conditions.

  • Only about 1% of tornadoes ever reach EF4/EF5 intensity. And even in those tornadoes, those intense winds only affect a very small area compared to the size of the entire tornado path.

  • In an average year, you'll probably be in a tornado watch about 8 to 10 times.

  • In an average year, you'll probably be in 1-3 tornado warnings. If each warning lasts 30 minutes, that's less than two hours in a tornado warning for an entire year.

  • We have one of the best warning and weather information systems anywhere in the world right here where we live. From the excellent coverage from all the TV meteorologists to the local emergency management officials who operate the local sirens and warning systems to the men and women at the National Weather Service providing information to help you keep you safe and informed, you live in an area that has experience dealing with severe weather and you benefit from that by getting great information. You have some of the most experienced tornado experts in the world watching your back.

  • Severe weather outlooks are sometimes issued days before severe weather in our area. The further out they are, the less confidence we have on exactly what's going to happen, when and where it's going to happen or even if it's going to happen at all. Don't let outlooks stress you out. They're just a tool to give you information that can help you be sure you're ready just in case it happens. They are not a forecast and not a guarantee. Chances are very high that most people within a severe weather outlook area won't see any severe weather at all.

  • tornado or severe thunderstorm watch is issued when we have more confidence that we're going to have severe weather, and a watch will be more specific in time and space. But even then, most people in a watch will not see severe weather. We issue watches to let you know you could see storms in the next few hours so that you can make sure you're ready.

 


Concerns About Getting Storm Warnings

 

My community doesn't have sirens; I can't hear the sirens in my town in my house; or I'm afraid the sirens won't wake me up if there's a tornado.

 

Sirens are intended to be heard ONLY by people who are outside. They are NOT designed to be heard inside your home or vehicle. They are not designed to be able to wake you up. It's important to not rely so much on sirens. They should not be your primary or only warning source. You need other ways to get warning information.

Don't wait for a siren to take shelter.

 

Tornadoes are unpredictable and it seems like they can drop out of the sky from just about any storm. I'm worried a tornado will hit me with no warning and I'm not in my shelter.

 

National Weather Service statistics indicate that 97% of the most dangerous types of tornadoes (EF3, EF4 and EF5) are preceded by a tornado warning, giving you an average of 16 minutes advance notice.

You should be alert anytime there are severe thunderstorms in the area, especially if you are in a tornado watch. Most of these will never produce a tornado, but in a few cases a quick weaker tornado can form quickly in some severe thunderstorms.

If there are storms nearby and you feel like you don't want to risk not being in your shelter, you can take shelter whenever you want to. You don't need to wait for a tornado or a tornado warning to go to your safe place if it makes you feel better.

 


Concerns About Family Communication

 

I'm afraid I'll be separated from my family during the storm, or that we won't be able to communicate with each other after a bad storm.

 

Cell phone service, internet access and electrical power may all be impacted during and after severe weather. It's important to have a plan to increase your chances of being able to stay in touch with your family and friends should you become separated.

FEMA suggests that you:

  • Create a paper copy of your family's contact information and other important phone numbers.

  • Make sure everyone carries a copy in their wallet, backpack or purse, and post it in a central location at home.

  • Remember that text messages may get through when a phone call cannot.

  • Pick someone outside your community who can act as a point of contact to help your family members reconnect. In a disaster, making a long distance phone call may be easier than trying to call across town.

Be sure your phone, laptop, tablet, etc are fully charged on severe weather days. Think about getting a back-up power supply or battery pack, along with a car charger for your mobile devices. This will help you stay in touch longer should you lose electrical power.

On severe weather days, consider using the storm timing forecasts to make a plan with your family to determine a time when everyone should be home.

 

I'm really scared that a tornado will cause me to lose everything.

 

There's nothing any of us can do to stop a tornado from hitting us. While the chances of it happening are very small, it's a good idea to be as prepared as you can be just in case. We can learn from those who have experienced this and take steps to be ready to handle the worst case scenario.

Store the supplies you may need after the tornado passes.

Store the important documents you will need to start your recovery.

Discuss and practice your plans with your family.

Consider making your home more storm resistant.