Fifth Season: Storm anxiety

Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 6:40 PM CST
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - We’re continue our week-long look at severe weather on Wednesday, also known in this area as the Fifth Season.

Chief Meteorologist Ken Johnson is taking a closer look at storm anxiety.

Thunderstorms and severe weather are a way of life in our part of the world, but this way of life is a big problem for some people and pets. We’re learning how storm anxiety impacts people and pets and what you can do to feel better when thunder starts to rumble.

“We didn’t think we were gonna make it. My friend Kennedy said, Jesus, I love you, but I don’t want to meet you today,” Avery and Jillian McCurry said.

Avery and Jillian McCurry were never really scared of bad weather, until March 21, 2022. That’s when an EF3 tornado slammed into their elementary school in Jacksboro, Texas.

“We heard the bang which we now know was the gym wall and then it really starts,” Avery and Jillian McCurry said.

Crying, screaming, we were next to a door and the door had windows and we didn’t know what was happening, so we looked out the window of that room and the tornado was in that room. So, we just looked out the window and could see a tornado in our classroom.”

Ever since that Monday afternoon in March, they’ve been terrified.

“Awful! We don’t sleep. We have a thing that goes off. We’ll be in our rooms, our rooms are on the other side of the house and when we hear that beeping noise, whether that’s a bad weather advisory or a tornado warning, we just spring out of our rooms. We have loft beds, so I jump off my loft bed and sprint into my parents’ room,” Avery and Jillian McCurry said.

The girl’s father, Wes McCurry, said he’s always monitored weather in north Texas, but the tornado has really changed things around their home.

“Before the tornado, they’d sleep through anything, thunderstorm, no big deal, and now first clap of thunder, we’re gonna get a visitor,” Wes McCurry said.

What the girls are experiencing is called storm anxiety, or a fear of bad weather. Nurse practitioner Katie Lister said this type of anxiety is like what a solider experiences after coming home from the battlefield.

“Similar things can happen with the weather, they’ve experienced something horrible before and when the weather starts looking like or sounding like something they’ve experienced before, their brains go right back to that and the anxiety response is just right there,” Lister said.

The girls aren’t alone. Many people and pets suffer from this type of anxiety.

“Some people have more of the emotional symptoms, the mental kind of racing thoughts, trouble focusing, feeling kinda foggy, and kind of thinking things are racing out of their control,” Lister said. “Then there’s sometimes physical symptoms of people feeling like they are flushed, blushing, heart racing sweaty, nervous, restless, antsy, can’t sit still.

Sophie is an 8-year-old pup that is terrified of changes in the weather. Her owner, Jullie Englett, said she noticed it the first day they adopted her.

“The very first day that we adopted her, we had no idea,” Englett said. “The lady we adopted her from completely forgot to tell us. Storms were coming in and she was acting crazy, and the lady messaged me and said, ‘hey, I forgot to tell you, she’s terrified of storms.’ I said oh ok. Well about that time, I opened the refrigerator to get her a piece of cheese and Benadryl, trying to calm her down. That’s when she jumped into the refrigerator. and was trying to hide. It was very hysterical and that’s when I realized, oh this poor baby, she is completely terrified.”

Veterinarian Ross Thompson said he’s seen this type of behavior in dogs quite a bit.

Typically panting, pacing, hiding, shaking, the most common is they’ll go hide under the bed or in the closet,” Thompson said. “The worst cases I’ve seen are destructive dogs trying to chew through doors, drywall and run away. They’ll try and get out of the house.”

This type of anxiety can impact the dog’s health.

“We do see a lot of stress, diarrheas afterwards or upset stomachs,” Thompson said. “Dogs don’t want to eat so it can be detrimental to their health.”

Thompson said there are medications that can help with anxiety, but he recommends other methods first.

“Try to desensitize them,” Thompson said. “Walk their dog on a sunny day and to play a thunderstorm or YouTube video on their phone and kind of let that noise be something the dog enjoys. Do it overtime and each time increase the volume on your phone and sometimes it’ll help to desensitize them to the thunder noise that they are scared of.”

As for humans, therapy is an option, but education may be the best cure.

“Knowledge is power,” Lister said. “If you know more about it, you can reason through some of the mental part of it and then help your body calm down with the rest of it.”

That’s the route Wes McCurry is taking with his girls.

“The biggest thing we’ve helped is just education of here’s the science of why this is just gonna be a rain event or we have the all the ingredients,” Wes McCurry said. “You’ve probably seen the meme about the taco warning. We have got the ingredients for a taco, but we haven’t made a taco.

You can have three of the things but if we don’t have all four it might be just rain or it might not be anything, but education is the approach we’re taking.

The first alert weather team never hypes up weather unless it’s something serious. Our job is to prepare you and not scare you. We strive to be the voice of reason, while others are unnecessarily hyping it up especially on social media, for likes and follows on pages, sometimes for monetary gain