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Lilapsophobia

Fear of Tornadoes and Hurricanes

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Updated July 16, 2014

Girl at window, storm.
Audrey Simper Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

Lilapsophobia, or fear of tornadoes and hurricanes, can be seen as a more severe form of astraphobia, or fear of thunder and lightning. If you suffer from lilapsophobia, it is not the average summer storm that you fear, but the possibility of that storm becoming severe. This phobia is relatively common, although rarer than astraphobia.

Causes of Lilapsophobia

Like many phobias, the fear of tornadoes and hurricanes is often traced to a negative experience. Perhaps you have been affected by severe weather that caused personal injury or property damage to you or someone you love. Or you might have been spared by a tornado that wreaked havoc in your neighborhood, possibly adding a bit of survivor guilt to the mix.

If you have been through a truly devastating storm experience such as Hurricane Katrina, it is particularly important to seek professional advice. In addition to lilapsophobia, it is possible that you are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lilapsophobia, like many phobias, may also be learned. If your parents, friends or relatives are afraid of tornadoes and hurricanes, you may have picked up their fear.

Symptoms of Lilapsophobia

While it is normal and rational to check weather forecasts before outdoor activities, many people with lilapsophobia find that the weather controls their lives. You might spend a great deal of time watching the Weather Channel or tracking storms online. You may refuse to go out on days when storms are predicted.

When a storm hits, you may display unusual behaviors. Constantly checking for weather alerts; hiding under the bed or in a closet; and even putting a full tornado plan into effect as soon as the rain begins are all common among those with this fear. You might listen closely to the storm for sounds of tornado activity, or you might attempt to drown out the storm altogether with loud music or movies.

Many people find that lilapsophobia is worsened by being alone. You might call friends in a panic, or arrange your schedule such that you are rarely alone. Some people with this phobia find that going to a mall, a movie theater or a library can help them control their panic.

Over time, you might find that your daily activities become more and more restricted. You might become unwilling to enter buildings that you do not find “safe,” even on clear, sunny days. You may refuse to take part in outdoor activities or long road trips for fear that a storm might hit.

Lilapsophobia in Children

Many children go through a phase of astraphobia, or fear of storms. Lilapsophobia is not as common in children, but may certainly appear. Young children who are just learning to separate fantasy from reality are especially susceptible to fears caused by media images and adult conversations. If a major storm is profiled on television or discussed by adults, children may become afraid that it will happen to them.

Because fears are a normal part of development, phobias are generally not diagnosed in children unless they persist for more than six months. Try to reassure your child about the relative rarity of major storms, and explain your storm readiness procedures to him. Of course, it is important to tell the child’s doctor if the phobia is severe or persistent, as a therapist referral may be necessary.

Lilapsophobia in Popular Culture

Hollywood films such as Twister (1996) address the effects of lilapsophobia. In that film, Dr. Jo Harding, played by Helen Hunt, witnesses her father’s death in a tornado. As an adult, she fights the resulting lilapsophobia by becoming a storm chaser. The film features highly realistic footage of major tornadoes, so it is not the best choice for those suffering from this fear.

Tornadoes and hurricanes are a part of life, and today’s media offers the opportunity to view devastating storms and their aftermath repeatedly, in vivid high definition detail. Although the coverage is certainly important, it is equally important to put such coverage into perspective. While small weather events happen frequently, only those that are severe are deemed newsworthy. Media coverage can easily lead to a skewed belief that serious storms are much more common than they actually are.

Rational Preparedness

Although your chances of being caught in a killer storm are relatively small, the risks are real. Therefore, it is important to be prepared. The key is to recognize the difference between rational preparedness and phobic reactions.

If you live in a storm-prone area, get a copy of your area’s official preparedness literature. These documents are often distributed in grocery stores, libraries and other public locations. Read through the recommendations and put together a storm readiness plan.

If you share a household, let someone else monitor the weather. That person can alert you about any specific dangers and help you decide the best course of action. This will take some of the pressure off you, and can help you avoid obsessive checking.

Learn about the types of storms that affect your area. For examples, hurricanes can be devastating but are predicted far in advance. Tornadoes can develop quickly, but only under certain weather conditions. Learning about the types of storms that may affect you can help you make more rational decisions about confronting them.

Treating Lilapsophobia

Like many phobias, lilapsophobia is often treated through cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques. However, if your phobia stems from post-traumatic stress disorder, then other types of therapy may be more appropriate. Your therapist will be able to diagnose the root of your phobia and prescribe the best course of action.

It is crucial to find a therapist that you trust to help you conquer your fears. Take a look at “Finding a Therapist” for more information.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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