Fear of Natural Phenomena

Thunderstorms, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural events can happen almost anywhere, sometimes with little or no warning. People with specific phobias of natural phenomena, therefore, usually feel they have very little control over their fear. They cannot prevent a thunderstorm or predict when an earthquake might happen, and therefore, there is no guarantee that they can avoid it. They may cope by staying indoors most or all of the time, a behavior that affects their quality of life.

“There are people who are so debilitated by the thought of severe weather that they can’t drive their cars or go to work or school,” says psychologist John Westefeld, who has studied people who fear thunderstorms and tornadoes. “That extreme reaction has all the characteristics of a phobia.”

It is possible for some people with phobias of natural phenomena to limit how often they are exposed to what frightens them. Someone with a phobia of tornadoes, for instance, probably would not choose to live in Oklahoma, a state where these storms are common. Other types of natural phenomena, such as wind, are much more widespread and difficult to avoid, and people with phobias of such things may often feel trapped by their fear.

Westefeld says he has met people who are so afraid of the weather, they own special weather radios to check constantly for looming storms. Some have told him they start to worry when a storm is still a week away. People with weather pho- bias might even call in sick to work or school on the day of a storm because they are too afraid to go outside. Such a phobia can make life difficult when the person has to start inventing excuses for missing too much work or school.