Severe storms spark summer blues
Weather-weary residents flooded with stress
Ann Domorad's stomach turns when she hears another storm is coming.
After three severe thunderstorms in two-and-a-half weeks the first of which brought down a huge tree into the yard of her Rockville home she's one of the many county residents who say they've had enough.
Domorad said since the storms, she's been keeping an eye on the stability of trees in her yard. When she saw the storm advisory last week, she immediately called her childcare provider to warn them. Her co-workers at an international education organization said they are holding off on buying large quantities of groceries, for fear another storm might knock out their power and force them to empty out yet another thawed freezer-full of food.
After a winter of snowmageddon, a summer of floodageddon has left many county residents on edge. But just how serious can a case of storm dread become?
"Severe weather anxiety can almost turn into a phobic condition," said psychotherapist Mandi Mader, of Kensington. Strong storms can trigger a debilitating phobia of harsh weather, she said, causing people to restrict their activities, obsessively watching the Weather Channel. In fact, 80 percent of people who have a severe-weather phobia said it was triggered by a previous encounter with a severe storm, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
The weather in Montgomery County certainly has rated as severe in the past year. And the past three storms July 25, Aug. 5 and Aug. 12 just happened to hit Montgomery County the hardest, said Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist with the Baltimore-Washington forecast office of the National Weather Service. The last storm brought two inches of rain within a half hour, leaving many residents shopping for generators or slogging through water-logged basements with wet-dry vacuums in their hands.
"It just so happens that a lot of the storms have hit Montgomery County, or the worst part has hit there," he said. "It's just luck of the draw the way things have gone. ... Montgomery County's been under the gun this summer."
With these storms flooding basements, knocking out electricity, causing massive traffic jams and leaving cell phones and laptops with drained batteries, it's no wonder stress levels are up.
"The storms were pretty intense, and they represent a real disruption to people's lives," said Dr. Steven Israel, medical director with Adventist Behavioral Health. "The things they used to spend their time doing to keep themselves in a psychological equilibrium are no longer there temporarily. It is anxiety-provoking; it is disruptive. When something like that happens, your nervous system goes on high alert."
Israel said the storms affect each person differently. Some people enjoy chasing twisters, he pointed out, so they might not be sensitive to the threat of a storm. Others who already suffer psychological problems might be at a higher risk for severe weather anxiety, he said.
Although Domorad said her weather concerns are "a mild worry," plenty of county residents are with her when they shudder at the thought of another serious thunderstorm.
Silver Spring resident Laura Donnelly-Smith was in her bedroom with her husband when a 60-something-year-old oak tree crashed through their bedroom, taking pieces of the sidewalk, sewer and roadway with it.
"We got really lucky, because my husband and I were not hurt even though we were in our bedroom," she said.
Dealing with the insurance company to get her house back into shape is a timely process, but she did note one silver lining.
"The worst has happened, and things can only get better," she said. "That tree can't hit my house again. We're definitely feeling some stress right now, but we're just trying to take it one day at a time."
At the popular pub Growler's of Gaithersburg, Executive Chef and Partner Alexander Zeppos is dealing with the aftermath of the storm's toll on his business. The heavy winds lifted parts of the tin roof off, leaving his floor drenched and his business closed for weeks.
"It's shocking," he said. "How do you handle something like this, especially at this time of year? It's horrible."
Zeppos said he's not afraid of the threat of another storm, though. Who is he to stop Mother Nature from doing what she wants, he asked. Still, the monetary loss to business is significant, and he's looking forward to late September, when the restaurant can be reopened.
Mader, whose clientele is largely pre-teens and adolescents, said people who aren't able to cope as easily with the storms should be prepared and stay calm. Have flashlights, food and dry ice on hand in case of a storm, she said. Don't obsess over the weather reports, and give yourself a storm-ready pep talk.
"Talk to yourself in a calm, reassuring way, because you can make yourself crazy with your thinking," she said.
If the fear persists, don't be afraid to seek professional help, she said.