PTSD and storms: dealing with the emotional aftermath

COLUMBUS (WCMH)–Thunderstorms can be frightening for some people, both kids and adults. Especially if you’ve been through a major disaster in the past.

Storm Team 4 Meteorologist Tara Lane experienced first-hand the emotional distress that can result from going through such events.

When she was 8 years old, a tornado struck her family’s home. Through the years after it happened, it presented itself as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

She shares her story, as well as tips from a local counselor about what you can do if you or someone you know is going through the same thing.

“It was the day before Easter, 1984,” says Tara.  “My family was living in Memphis, Tennessee.  We were coloring Easter eggs when an F-3 tornado touched down and tore through our neighborhood.  It happened so quickly–it was terrifying.”

Chatting with her parents and recounting the events of that day, her mom remembers looking out the window right before it happened, thinking how it didn’t seem like any other ordinary thunderstorm.

“There was a lot of wind, then the rain started coming down horizontally…”  Her mom drifts off, then continued, “And as we started to head down the hallway with you and your brother and sister, all the doors in the house just slammed shut at the same time.”

It was over in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

Once her parents felt the storm had passed, they walked outside to survey the damage. Destruction was everywhere. They saw totaled cars, trees through windows, and some homes were destroyed.

Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

The family later moved from Tennessee, but the memories stayed with Tara.

Her mom remembers, “It could have been a sunny day, but if it was windy outside, she was very…she just didn’t want to go outside, and I used to say, no, it’s fine, it’s not going to rain today.”

She always had to know if something like that could happen again. So in a way, she dealt with that fear of storms, by studying the weather. You don’t have to make a career of it, though.

Tara sat down with Betsy Harlan, a licensed clinical counselor in Columbus.  Harlan works mostly with people with trauma in their background. She says there are a few things you can do to calm yourself, and help others.

“You want to check yourself first,” says Harlan.  “Make sure that you’re calm, because a child will be reading your body language.  You can calm yourself by taking deep breaths, or doing breathing exercises; like the many yoga exercises that are around these days.”

Harlan goes on to say that simple self-talk is helpful, particularly for adults. Then there’s physical exercises, like the ‘butterfly hug.’

“Cross your arms across your chest, and then you tap alternately from one side to the other. You’re activating both sides of your brain–left and right side–it’s very calming.”

You can also do simple tapping.  Tap your shoulders or knees back and forth.  You can do this for a child as well.  Rocking back and forth can help, as well as acupressure for the anxiety.

“Squeeze as tightly as you need to, between your thumb and index finger. It has a calming effect. It’s also distracting because you notice something is squeezing your hand.” says Harlan.

She went on to say that for the most part, people can recover from these types of events in a month or so, but if it continues past that, to the point where it gets in the way of everyday life–or you start thinking about it out of the blue–it may be time to start looking for professional help.

As for Tara and her family; looking back, they keep it in perspective.

“It could have been worse,” says her dad. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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