The Silent Impact:  Storm Anxiety in Oklahoma
Richard Smith, NOAA/NWS Forecast Office, Norman, Oklahoma, Norman, OK
Jonathan Kurtz, NOAA/NWS Forecast Office
Todd Lindley, NOAA/NWS Forecast Office
Gina Eosco, Eastern Research Group

Since 2007, Oklahoma has suffered at least one tornado related fatality each year, the longest continuous stretch on record.  Several of these have occurred as the result of large, significant tornadoes in central Oklahoma.  In fact, 25% of the state’s tornado deaths since 1950 have come from four tornadoes in the Oklahoma City Metro area (1999, 2011, 2013).  Of course, these statistics do not begin to address the impacts these events have on the people who experienced - either directly or indirectly - these terrible events. .


With this background, it should be no surprise that many people in and around central Oklahoma experience some level of storm anxiety, ranging from uneasiness to full-blown anxiety and phobia.  National Weather Service and media meteorologists working in Oklahoma routinely interact with storm anxiety sufferers any time thunderstorms are in the forecast. They field repeated phone calls or respond to frequent social media messages from those who are concerned, nervous, scared or in some cases incapacitated by fears that seem to be triggered - at least in part - by the outlooks, forecasts and other information they are receiving from the weather enterprise.

Previous studies by Westefeld and Coleman et al. have attempted to quantify the level of storm anxiety/phobia in limited sample populations around the country, but no such study has been conducted to focus on central Oklahoma.  We believe the unique combination of several elements, including the tornado frequency, recent history of significant impactful tornadoes in central Oklahoma, and increasing exposure to severe weather information from a growing variety of sources makes central Oklahoma a prime area for research on storm anxiety.


With recent tornado history as a backdrop, this presentation will explore what we know about storm anxiety in Oklahoma using information gathered during the 2015 - 2017 severe weather seasons. We will also highlight new partnerships with the mental health community and new initiatives to help people cope with the stresses and fears of severe weather season in Oklahoma.