Meteorologist Eric Elwell: How I overcame fear of thunderstorms

I am sure many of you who read my articles regularly know that I love looking up at the sky, especially at night.

My favorite nighttime events besides meteor showers and checking out our nearby planetary neighbors, are thunderstorms. Storms that produce lightning that fingers across the sky are spectacular to watch.

Mother Nature can put on her own fireworks that can produce vivid displays of blue, yellow, orange and sometimes green and gold.

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However, what you may not know is that as a kid, I had a severe case of astraphobia. Yes, I was incredibly scared of storms, especially at night.

It was so bad that if heard so much as a rumble of thunder far away, I’d run and hide underneath my parents’ bed and would sleep there until the storm moved away.

It really wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 years old when I finally relaxed when thunderstorms would approach.

It turns out, I was more curious about the storms than I was fearful of them. As humans, we are often the most fearful of things which we do not know about or understand.

To help cope with my fear of thunderstorms my mother would buy me books about all kinds of storms. Tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, you name it, my mom found a book about it and got it for me.

It turns out, the more I read and learned about what made storms form and make their strange “noises,” the less fearful of them I became.

I’ve never really stopped learning about storms or the weather. As a meteorologist, I am always learning and understanding new things as our technology advances.

As I’ve gone through my career, I’ve met a lot of kids that are going through some of the same stresses and fears that I went through at a young age. This past week, I was reminded of how scary storms can be as early last Wednesday morning, lightning struck near my home and I was awakened to the deafening crack of thunder and then my kids screaming thinking the house had been hit.

Even though I was well aware of the forecast and was safe in my home, a storm can still rattle your nerves.

Now that storm season is upon us, it is a great time to talk to your young kids, especially if they have any fear of storms. If the fear is severe enough, be sure you talk with them about storms.

Never dismiss or minimize your child’s fear, instead explain that even though lightning can be dangerous, you and your child are safe because you are all indoors or in your car, and away from potential danger zones.

For toddlers, you can show them that the sounds of thunder and lightning aren’t so scary by recreating the noises together with pots and pans. Once they realize they can make that same cracking noise themselves, it won’t be such a frightening unknown.

Then during a storm, remind your child why they are safe and put them in control. Ask “what would you like to do to feel better?” Sometimes that means going into another room or building a fort of pillows and crawling into it.

Many experts suggest buying an age-appropriate book for your child and reading it together (so you’ll be there to answer their questions), such as Nature’s Fireworks: A Book About Lightning by Josepha Sherman.

I am truly a believer that knowledge is power, including the power to be less afraid.

It is likely as we break out of this cold spell and start to warm up over the coming days and weeks, storms will become much more active. Remind your kids if they are fearful that storms are a normal part of nature.

My mom used to tell me thunder was just God rearranging his furniture. That worked for a little while, but eventually, it was a few good books that cured my astraphobia.

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