When Should I Worry About...

PODCAST: Can Weather Affect Your Mood?

June 6, 2023


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Rainy-day doldrums, sunny dispositions, winter blues — plenty of phrases suggest a link between weather and a person's mood. But how real is the connection? Can unpleasant conditions put you in a bad mood, a beautiful day in a good one? Why are some people more sensitive to the elements? And can past experiences with severe weather cause a kind of PTSD? We've got a jam-packed episode this week, covering everything from a psychologist's viewpoint on weather and mood to a high-profile weather expert's tips for preparing for hurricanes, flash-flooding and more.

Hosts: Zach Moore, Katie McCallum (interviewer)


Notable topics covered:

  • What research says about weather's effect on a person's disposition
  • The complexities of mood and why it's rarely as simple as one thing
  • Berger's take on the worst weather month in Houston
  • Seasonal affective disorder: When mood is definitely affected by the weather
  • Can seasonal affective disorder happen in the summer?
  • Dr. Orme's tips for handling months of humidity and heat or cold and darkness
  • The impact severe weather can have on mental health
  • Tips for handling the stress and anxiety of severe weather
  • Hurricane, flash-flooding, tornado, freeze: How to prepare in advance for a severe weather event

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Episode Transcript

ZACH: Welcome to On Health with Houston Methodist. I’m Zach Moore. I’m a photographer and editor here, and I’ve worked in multimedia and television for over 15 years - and I’m also a longtime podcaster.


KATIE: I’m Katie McCallum. I’m a former researcher, turned health writer, mostly writing for our blog.


ZACH: Katie, how about this weather we’re having?


KATIE: Yeah, it’s hot.


ZACH: It is. You know, I love living in Houston. I don’t love the weather here.


KATIE: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of perks of living in Houston. Great food. I mean, I would say pretty reasonable cost of living. The weather is the big downside. And for those who aren’t familiar, we’re talking about how miserably hot and humid it can get for quite a few months out of the year.


ZACH: It’s hot in the summer of course. It’s hot in the spring, okay? It's hot in the fall. And then, it’s kinda moderate in the winter. It’s -- Occasionally, it’s cold.


KATIE: Oh yeah, occasionally, but most of the time, when I think of the winter holiday season, I'm still thinking I'm wearing shorts some of the time. That’s just --


ZACH: We’ve definitely worn shorts many a Christmas here in Houston.


KATIE: Yeah, I think it’s almost standard.

ZACH: It’s interesting, you know, February, I think by the traditional calendar is the last month of winter but in Houston, as far as my memory goes, it always seems to be the coldest month. Like, I remember when I was a kid, it’s the first time it ever snowed in my life, it was February.

KATIE: Yeah.

ZACH: And you know we had big freeze not too long ago, just a couple years ago in February.

KATIE: Yeah, it was Valentine's -- either Valentine’s Day or Valentine’s week. I can’t remember.

ZACH: No, I remember. It was Valentine’s week. I was outta town.

KATIE: Well, good time to be out of town.

ZACH: It was. Another good time to be out of town, Hurricane Harvey. I was also out of town.

KATIE: Okay, yes, definitely a good time to be out of town as well.

ZACH: So, I will share with you my personal travel schedule in the future, so you know when to batten down the hatches and be ready for extreme weather when I’m not here.

KATIE: Or perhaps you should not be leaving Houston ‘cause it sounds like anytime you leave Houston, you take any chance of predictable weather with you.

ZACH: True. But I guess the important question is Katie, do you let the weather affect your mood?

KATIE: Interesting, you frame it as “let the weather affect my mood.” I would say the weather does affect my mood. I hadn’t really considered whether I’m letting it do that. Does it affect your mood?

ZACH: Yeah, I don’t really let it. I don’t. Again, I use that term “let it” which probably informs my psychology on it.

KATIE: It does.

ZACH: I just think, you know, weather is just something that’s totally out of your control, right? There’s nothing you can do about it. Now, be responsible of course. Like, don’t go out in the middle of a tornado, or hurricane, or a flood.

KATIE: That’s a good PSA.

ZACH: Yes. And if you have plans for the weekend like, “Oh, we were gonna go to the zoo this weekend, but it might rain.” Like, go and if it rains bring an umbrella, and then if it’s too bad, go do something else. Just adjust your plan, that kind of thing. Don't let the weather rain on your parade, Katie.

KATIE: Nice. So, I agree, and I like your very positive, rosy outlook. I think for me it manifests a little differently. It’s not that I don’t go do things, it’s that I'm so physically uncomfortable -- So, to clarify, I think I’m affected by the heat, and I know that, like, as a physical human I am. I’m very sensitive to heat, so I don’t really handle the heat very well, like my physical body. And so, I get so uncomfortable that I think it just starts to affect like my mental state essentially. And it’s not that I don’t go do stuff. I still go do things outside in the heat of the summer when it’s miserable. It’s just more of, I don’t have a positive outlook about everything. And then, it bleeds into other things, like things that I usually love, I’m more nitpicky about like my pets. Like, I can tell I’m a bit more quick to get like annoyed by things they do where usually I’m not. So, I mean it’s very specific to like, August, I feel for myself is a rough month for me, ‘cause I think it’s just so hot here and I’m just over it, and it affects me mentally.

ZACH: Yeah, August, August, July, August, even September, I think. That’s like the big range of this is unbearable while I’m here.

KATIE: July is definitely unbearable. By August I'm like, I’m just over it and there’s no end in sight either. It’s kind of like this is gonna be forever. This is my life now. Why did I choose this for myself? And then, September, it’s still miserable but like I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in September and I can usually cling on to some shred of hope that like a cool front is coming. It might get into the 80s soon.

ZACH: Well, I think there’s a lot to be said about how it affects our psychology, our mental state, our mood. And we talked to a couple of experts this week about it, didn’t we Katie?

KATIE: We did. So, first we talked to Dr. William Orme. He is a psychologist here at Houston Methodist. So, we talked to him from his standpoint if he does think weather can really impact a person’s mood. I think we would all assume, or at least I assumed, that there’s a psychology to it ‘cause it does anecdotally affect my mood. We talked to him about how he sees it play out, and then we also talked to Eric Berger of Space City Weather which our Houston listeners will be very familiar with who he is. We brought him on to address kinda the slow weather days of like when it’s raining for a while or when it’s hot for a while, what his take is on this topic. We also talked to him about severe weather events, and this is something that is a more serious side of how weather can affect our mood. I think we all know how terrifying and stressful and panic inducing it can be when there’s a hurricane coming at you, or there’s a really bad thunderstorm and you know you have to drive home in a little bit. That stuff can come with a lot of stress, so we talked to him about some tips he has to prepare for weather events.

ZACH: Alright, well let’s get into it.


[Sound effect signaling beginning of interview]


KATIE: We’re here with Dr. Orme. Thanks so much for being with us today.


DR. ORME: Yeah. Great to be with you guys again.


KATIE: So, we’re gonna talk about how weather affects our mood, or maybe whether the weather affects our mood. And I was kinda surprised when I was researching this when we thought this might be a good podcast topic. I started looking into it and what I found and was surprised to find is there’s not a lot of research total about this topic, and then a lot that’s out there kinda seems to maybe sway towards that the weather does not affect our mood, of the population at large. And at first, I was kinda bummed and I was like, “I guess this isn’t a good topic,” but then I was left with more questions than answers, honestly, when I was researching it. So, then I was like, “Actually, this is the perfect time to have a conversation with an expert like you about this.” You know, one thing that I wanted to kind of dive into is that when I was researching this, I ran across this quote, and I wanted to get your thoughts on it. “So, we encounter a strange paradox in which harsh weather is ostensibly stressful but has little obvious impact on mood because we are good at adapting to varied environmental conditions.” What’s your take on something like this? Is it that simple? I read this and kind of was -- didn’t know what to make of it.


DR. ORME: Yeah, I think that quote makes sense to me maybe for a lot of people’s experience that a lot of us have other things that we’re worrying about and that are on our minds, and the weather sort of registers very low on the totem pole of things that are affecting us. But I also think that it probably doesn’t fit everyone’s experience. That there is probably a number of people that really do feel impacted by things like the weather and that that ends up being a very real struggle for them and functionally impairs them, really, in their lives.


KATIE: Yeah, and I think even as a group when we were kind of fleshing out this idea, I think all of us kind of assumed that it would be obvious that the weather might impact our mood.


DR. ORME: Right.


KATIE: And I don’t know why I would say that should seem obvious and I mean, the person from this quotes says “ostensibly,” meaning that like there is this appeared kind of like perceived affect it has. So, I guess to come right out with it, ‘cause I think we’re gonna have to dig at this a lot. Do you think, or what would be your personal opinion as someone who kinda lives this day in, day out of helping people regulate their moods? Do you think weather can play a role at all?


DR. ORME: I do. I think that when you ask a question about mood, it’s a difficult -- Mood is a tricky thing, I think, because it’s a very crude indicator for a person about what’s driving that. It’s almost like body temperature in that way. If you have a fever, it’s kinda unclear about what’s driving the fever, and you might be able to drill down a little bit and say, “Well, maybe you have a virus that’s driving the fever,” but then you could even drill down a little bit further and think, “Well, maybe there’s other things that contributed to you getting a virus like lifestyle decisions, that kind of thing. Not eating right or getting, sleeping-- getting enough sleep, and that kinda thing. So, I think when it comes to mood, it’s a very similar thing that mood can be impacted by a whole number of different factors, physiological factors, psychological factors, social factors. And so, just, it gets to this question about how much do our external circumstances really affect us. And I do think that it is true that our external circumstances affect us, and that weather can be a part of that. But it’s probably not the case that it’s a significant factor for a lot of people. But I think for a small but meaningful size, you know, of the population, this ends up being a big deal.



KATIE: I like that you brought up how complex mood is ‘cause even like as a person who obviously has moods, I often find that I have moods and I can never -- Sometimes, you cannot figure out where it’s coming from.


DR. ORME: Right.


KATIE: Like, you just wake up and you’re in a bad mood.


DR. ORME: Yeah.


KATIE: You can’t really pinpoint anything. Like, had a fine day at work yesterday. Had a great evening. Had a good dinner, you know? Got a lot of sleep but then you still just wake up in a poor mood.


DR. ORME: Yeah. Yeah.


KATIE: So, you know, weather maybe lower as you mentioned, kind of lower on the totem pole. What are some of the main kind of drivers that might be affecting someone's mood? And is weather just kind of like adding on to that?


DR. ORME: Yeah, it kind of varies per person. A lot of what therapists hear about are issues related to work, relationships, and feeling safe in the world, really significant transitions in their lives. We're kind of creatures of habit. We do well in there’s structure. When that is kind of dismantled for whatever reason, life circumstances, it really affects people's moods. So, there's a -- just a lot of concerns that are on people's hearts and minds, and weather, you know, we don't hear about that a lot usually because there's these other things going on. But we also live in Houston, which is like, you know, when it comes to -- there's particular conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder that are kind of case in point that weather can affect mood, and the prevalence of those is much higher in the northern hemisphere.



KATIE: You've brought up Seasonal Affective Disorder and I wanted to ask you about that. And you kind of set it up perfectly because it is kind of this clinical thing we have that we can maybe extrapolate from. So, can you give us a broad overview on what Seasonal Affective Disorder is, how common it is, and then what are the signs? And can someone have it and not know? Like, what's the landscape here?


DR. ORME:  Sure. So Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes it's called seasonal depression. It is a subtype of major depression. So, in other words, in order to meet criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder, you have to have what's called a major depressive episode, which is a two week period of time when you have a cluster of symptoms that are very, very impairing. And so, this is like a depressed mood, lack of pleasure, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and a number of other things. So, this is not just kind of feeling down, this is like “I can't function because my mood is so low.” And so, with -- that's what happens with Seasonal Affective Disorder and what -- you know, to qualify for that diagnosis, you have to have it coincide with the change in the season and it has to be like two consecutive years. So, usually it, it has its onset in the fall and then remits when summertime comes.



KATIE: I often think I hear it as like the winter blues. So, and when you say it, it starts in the fall. So, it's like typically like, okay, so winter blues, that's a thing maybe for some people.


DR. ORME: Yeah.


KATIE: Can you have like reverse sad, you know, you talked about how we're here in Houston, it is unbearably hot here. Like, I mean --


DR. ORME: Indeed.


KATIE: Starting as early as April, sometimes we're hitting, you know, the 90’s most of the summer we're in the hundreds. The heat index with the humidity is like over a hundred oftentimes. By August sometimes I am literally like, I feel emotionally depleted to handle the heat. So, is reverse sad a thing? Can it happen in the summer?



DR. ORME: Yeah, that's -- yeah. I, I find -- in the springtime, I find myself anticipating the summer, and when there's like the last cold day, I'm like, “Oh, oh, here it comes. Here it comes.” So yeah, actually there is a subtype of seasonal affective disorder that does occur in the summertime. It's much less common than in the winter. But yeah, there -- and so much less is known about that. But it -- there is a group of people that that occurs for in the summertime. I think it's good to remember that the -- whenever we're talking about like a clinical diagnosis, like Seasonal Affective Disorder or even depression, most therapists or clinicians are thinking about these things not as categorically you have it or you don't have it, we're thinking about it in terms of a dimensional scale, like how much do you have it? So, some people might have the winter blues, which might -- we might call that sort of subclinical Seasonal Affective Disorder. Like, maybe it affects their mood, but they can still pretty much function and still go about their daily lives. But when it kind of eclipses over into the clinical range, that's when people are, you know, they really struggle to get by.




KATIE: Got it. Something you just said reminded me of kind of a concept we've talked about before in that people don't deal well with things when they don't know much about them. Or I guess what I'm saying is when you -- you wanna know why something's happening. We've talked about uncertainty, I think you and I a lot. Is some of this like thinking, this perception that the weather affects our mood, is it just because we're looking for something to figure out, like, my mood's down, maybe it's the weather. And is that kind of the driver, do you think at all here that we're trying to latch onto something and we're like, “Weather, hot outside, cold outside.  I'll take it.”



DR. ORME: That's it. Yeah. I'm not sure. I think, again, I think what you said earlier about mood is right on. Sometimes it's very hard to understand what's going on. In fact, most therapists, when they're working with people are trying to help think with them. Like, okay, “What has shifted your mood? Let's go back through this. Yesterday, what happened?” You know, we're trying to make sense of what has driven that mood in a particular direction. When it comes to Seasonal Affective Disorder, we do have research that suggests that there, you know, are factors related to less sunlight that actually do affect us physically. So, sunlight does have an effect on the levels of serotonin in our brains and serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can regulate mood. So, there are actual things that can physically affect us. But I also think that when we -- whenever we're talking about mood, again, it's such a crude thing, there's usually multiple things that are interacting to affect that. So, you could think about it from a psychological perspective that okay, some -- when it's all dark outside and gloomy and rainy, for some people that feels like very oppressive. It feels like I'm stuck in this, like gloom, that's not gonna end for a long time. And that can drive mood lower. Socially when weather gets extreme, it sort of impairs our everyday functioning. And so, we're not doing the things that we usually do that help us feel normal and help us keep to our routine and help us stay engaged in pleasurable activities. So, I think that we can hang it on weather, but it's also related to these other intermediate factors that can really affect us as well.



KATIE: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You also kinda reminded me, or I guess what you -- what you were talking about now made me realize, like, I'm coming in with a pretty pessimistic view here of weather affecting mood. You mentioned sunlight. So, it does sound like, you know, weather could improve mood too, perhaps in some ways in the sense that like a bright sunny day -- patio weather. I think that pa --even just thinking of patio weather, I'm like smiling immediately. Like, oh man, just sitting on a patio eating a nice meal, having a drink. It sounds great. So yeah, I guess to that point, like do you think even just the bright sunlight nice day can kind of take the mood levels up a little?


DR. ORME: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, in fact when it comes to Seasonal Affective Disorder, one of the treatments is what's called light therapy. People get light boxes where they expose themself to more like light that will help -- it helps on a, a physiological level with vitamin D and promoting serotonin. And so it's -- that light box is sort of artificially replicating the patio weather. So, I do think it has a real effect.



KATIE: Yeah. It makes me wanna like make like a patio weather room or something.



DR. ORME: Right.


KATIE: Just like, go set it up and paint the walls -- paint the ceilings blue and like, put something on the walls and put the light box in there.


DR. ORME: That sounds nice.


KATIE: You know, we have Seasonal Affective Disorder clinically diagnosable. And you mentioned that maybe perhaps it's not so much whether you're diagnosed with it, it's maybe on the scale of how bad is it for someone.


DR. ORME: Right.


KATIE: Are there people who are just sensitive to external stimuli but not to the point that there's like, it's depressive but they're just sensitive and so they get overwhelmed easily? Is that a real thing? I've read a lot about highly sensitive people. Like, are the -- is that real?



DR. ORME: That is real. And I think it's a -- an alive question about to what degree then does weather affect a highly sensitive person? But I mean, parents know this well, like they'll have one child that seems to like fall down and they'll cry, but it'll just roll off their back and they'll kind of go about their business. They'll have another child that kind of falls down and they need a lot of soothing. And that's because temperament, there's a real variation, individual differences around sensitivity. And some kids just feel things more deeply. They have a slower return to baseline. It takes them longer to be soothed. And so, it would make a lot of sense that if you have a higher degree of sensitivity to external stimuli, that weather would really affect that. I will say though, however, that, you know, we work with a fair amount of people that are highly sensitive and they don't often talk about the weather. So, there's, again, they probably have a lot of other things on their mind, you know. When you're -- when you have that sensitivity, sometimes it makes somebody feel kind of vulnerable in the world ‘cause things can really affect them and it's harder to let it roll off their back. So, they -- usually, there's a lot of other things on their mind. So, in theory it makes a lot of sense. I'm not actually sure on the data on this, but the people that that we work with are talking about a lot of other things that are affecting them.


KATIE: Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.


[Music plays to signal a brief interjection in the interview]


ZACH:  Seasonal Affective Disorder aside, the scientific studies analyzing the association between weather and the average person's mood have produced mixed results. The evidence for a connection is fairly modest. Often, these studies find only limited effects, or they incorporate very small sample sizes. For instance, a 1984 study found that the amount of sunshine, temperature, and humidity might affect mood. In particular, it showed that high humidity lowered concentration and increased sleepiness, something many Houstonians can likely relate to. But only 24 people, all of which men, were included in the study. A larger study conducted in 2011 piqued our interest though. Overall, the big picture results reaffirmed what many others had already shown. Across the studies, almost 500 participants, the association between weather and mood was barely, if at all, significant. However, the researchers noticed that while half of the individuals were unaffected by the weather, the other half were significantly affected by it. What's more is that participants were able to be sorted into four “Weather reactivity types.” Summer lovers showed improved moods on warm sunny days. Summer haters were less happy and more angry when the temperature or amount of sunshine was high, but showed improved moods on cool cloudy days. Rain haters had particularly bad moods on rainy days. The last type was those whose moods were unaffected by weather altogether, which as mentioned was almost half of the study’s participants. While the answer may be that we just each have a weather type, the reality is that studies analyzing mood are generally very hard to conduct. Dr. Orme has mentioned that mood is tricky, after all affected by many factors, physiological, psychological, and social. And at many levels. And weather, well, we all know how unpredictable that can sometimes be.


[Music plays to signal the resumption of the interview]


 KATIE: So, for people that do feel like their mood's affected by the weather, or people -- and I mean you've talked about how Seasonal Affective Disorder is treated with the light box. Someone who's subclinical of that and is just like, “Hey, it's winter. By February I am just, like, not able to get up. I just can't do my work.” Or you know, people in Houston, “By August I'm over it, I'm over the heat. Everything's -- everything's terrible. What are some tips you would have for kind of not letting the weather get to you, I guess? Or is it just regulating all the other stressors around you? Or what are your thoughts on that?


DR. ORME: Whenever our mood is affected or we start to feel anxiety or our mood starts to go down, sort of the normal thing that most people do is they accommodate that. So, if you're feeling down, what most people do is they say, “I don't really feel like going out today.” So, they'll stay in. And so, that shifts their daily routine and the structure in their life. And it's sort of a double edged sword because it feels nice to not do anything and to just stay home. And especially when you're feeling low. The flip side to that is that it sort of disconnects you from the structure that's really helpful in your life. It also disconnects you from the pleasurable experiences that can actually brighten your mood and enliven your mood. So, what a lot of therapists do with people is talk about how do you get back to kind of life as usual. So, I think when it comes to the weather, that if you heard that quote, “There's no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing.”


KATIE: Ah. I haven’t but…


DR. ORME: I think that's true to some degree. Like you wouldn't say that in the midst of Hurricane Harvey, or you wouldn't say that on top of Everest in a blizzard. But I think it's getting at this idea that preparing for that and finding a way to keep to your normal activities even despite whatever the weather is. If it's really cold, okay maybe bundle up and still go for the walk. Could be really helpful in guarding against -- ‘cause what ends up happening is it's sort of like this, it can get into a vicious cycle where okay, I'm gonna hang back and change my schedule ‘cause I don't feel great and the weather is poor, but then I'm feeling more depressed, which is more likely to isolate. And so, it can really snowball on itself.


KATIE: Yeah. Even before you said that quote, I was already thinking like, man, maybe next time it's raining, I'll just put a raincoat on and still go for a walk. So, it’s funny that you said that quote right after. So that's cool. So, a patio adjacent kind of weather question for you, you often hear people say, “I'm gonna go out and get some fresh air.” Which sort of implies that we think of nice weather and good weather and being outside with the elements and weather around us brings some benefit. Do, you know, do you agree? Do you think that fresh air can really improve our mood?



DR. ORME: I do. I think, again, you can look at it on different levels. I mean, on a physiological level, when you walk outside and you get fresh air, you're more likely to slow down and breathe more deeply. So, you might have more oxygen saturation in your blood, your HBA access that regulates cortisol and stress might be more well-regulated when you kind of slow down and are taking in more oxygen. So, physiologically it might have an effect, but psychologically too for people it sort of feels a little bit freeing to be outside and it's a bit of an escape and that can be alleviating. So, I -- yeah, I do think that that can -- some of these small things when we talk to people about coping with anxiety, it's -- some of these small things really add up if you can help yourself slow down, breathe deeply, put yourself into situations that are calming. This can really help your mood.


KATIE: Got it. Yeah, and it kind of reminds me that like control the things you can. And walking outside and getting some fresh air should be something you can control. And taking hold of that sounds powerful.


DR. ORME: Yeah.


KATIE: I'm glad you brought up severe weather and Hurricane Harvey and stuff because that is something I wanted to talk to you about. I feel like these severe weather events just like are happening more and more, and you know, we don't need to get into like the global warming of it all, but there's a -- I would say a fair amount of anxiety, especially in Houston where we have Hurricane Harvey, I feel -- I guess it's a long time ago now, but it still kind of feels like yesterday. We have these hurricanes that disrupt a significant number of people's lives. So, they're, I would say anxiety-inducing events.


DR. ORME: Absolutely.


KATIE: But even for somebody who, you know, the anxiety is one thing. Can a person who is significantly impacted by a Hurricane Harvey, can they have, I don't wanna say PTSD, cause I don't wanna say that they could necessarily, but can they, you know, have trauma that comes with that that carries with them in the future when there's another event?



DR. ORME: I think so, absolutely. I mean, if we think back to Hurricane Harvey, you -- we have a lot of us who were very afraid for our physical safety. A lot of people felt trapped and helpless in the midst of the storm. It kind of felt like, “when is this going to end?” You had a lot of people feel that sense of helplessness in the face of catastrophic loss, maybe even loss of life of their loved ones. So, I think the sort of the soil in which trauma really flourishes is when people feel, sort of trapped in unbearable emotion, usually because they're certain circumstances that are threatening their physical integrity. So, we had all of that during Harvey. So, it’s sort of understandable to think that this would really affect people, that in hurricane season, if you see a news story flash about a tropical storm developing in the Gulf, that this could dredge up a whole lot of past experiences that were very difficult for people.



KATIE: Yeah, for sure. Tips for somebody, whether you've been impacted by a Hurricane Harvey or you just have a lot of anxiety about impending weather, just given what we've all seen around us. How would you say, obviously we need to prepare for hurricanes and other weather events, but is, you know, when do we get to the point of over preparation and maybe like paralyzing fear? How would you help someone kind of keep the level head, balanced but still prepared?



DR. ORME: Yeah, I think that -- that's a great question. I think that what I think about as a clinician is the factor that -- of uncertainty and needing to accept that there's going to be uncertainty no matter how much we prepare. I think if -- I think what ends up happening is -- so it's obviously great to have a plan. You need to have a plan. And there's some point at which the anxiety about trying to reduce the uncertainty drives us to over prepare and it starts to sort of consume our lives. And so, you'll notice that when your life gets thrown outta balance, like you're not getting enough sleep, or your work performance is impaired ‘cause you're consumed with this. And so, you'll kind of know when your life is getting thrown outta balance. And a lot of that has to do with trying to mitigate a level of uncertainty that can't be mitigated.


KATIE: Right.

Dr. ORME:  And it's sort of like a gambit to eliminate this, but it's kind of impossible to eliminate. So, you could spin your wheels for so long, but if you can actually accept and sort of reassure yourself, “I've prepared. This is a reasonable amount of preparation. And at the end of the day, I can't control the future. Like, I -- as much as I try, I can't do it.” And that's a difficult thing to admit. I think things like Harvey really sort of challenge our assumptions that we have about the world, that the world is sort of predictable and controllable and safe. It sort of strips us of those illusions. And that's a very hard awareness. But if we can actually be clear-eyed about that and say, “Yeah, that's, that's kind of the world we live in, unfortunately. And I can do what I can, but I can't control everything.” That that usually helps reduce anxiety.

KATIE: Yeah. I think that's great advice. Making sure we're -- I think to your point, making sure we're prepared. I think we have to be prepared here in Houston. Harvey was a great example of, really wasn't supposed to impact us a ton, you know, was hitting south of us but then hung over the city. Like, you know, so being, having a plan, being prepared, but then knowing when I've done all I can do. Any parting words you have about how weather affects mood or how severe -- how we should handle severe weather and anxiety? I think this has all been super helpful, just wanted to get a chance to see if there's anything you would add that I haven't asked about.

DR. ORME: The only thing I would add, you know, we talked about kind of keeping to your regular routine and schedule. I think what a lot of people do when they're feeling upset or stressed is they reach out to somebody that -- a lot of us, our main coping mechanism is to talk to somebody who we like and trust and feel safe with. And that's usually a friend, or a parent, or a family member, or a provider, or somebody that's in their life that they can do. So, I'll just say that's a good thing to keep in mind to you don't have to handle this on your own. You know, there's probably people in your life you can talk to. If things get to a place where it's you're not functioning, this is a great time to reach out for some support. That's not a sign of weakness to have to get support here. This is sort of like a normal human thing. We're kind of pack animals. We need to be in community with one another, and usually being in that community really helps regulate the anxiety.


KATIE: I love that. That's such a powerful message to end on. Thanks for that.

DR. ORME: Sure.

KATIE: Well, it was great to have you on the podcast today. Thanks so much for joining us.

DR. ORME:  Yeah, thanks for having me.

[Sound effect signaling end of interview]

ZACH: Always a pleasure talking to Dr. Orme. We talked to him last season about habits, Katie, and I know you're a big fan of your conversations with him. What did you take away this time?

KATIE: I really do love talking to Dr. Orme. And for me, this conversation was super helpful, and I hope it's helpful for some other people that think their mood is affected by the weather. Mostly because it was good to get his tips for how to lean into that discomfort. You know, he kind of mentioned if it's raining outside and you're planning to go for a walk, like why not still just go for a walk? And I liked that.  It's a nice way of reframing something that's outta your control and making it something that you can still do and take into your control. Obviously, you know, if it's like lightning and there's flooding, like don't do anything crazy. But yeah, just like go outside and take a walk even if it's raining. That's fine.

ZACH: No, I a hundred percent agree. That's been my mindset on it all along. I just feel like yeah, if there's something you really wanna do, do it. Right? I mean I relate to -- back in college, me and my friends used to get together and play pick up baseball, which, you know. Not pick up basketball, pick up baseball. That's right. We had, let's see, about eight people on each team, give or take six --  I was very popular person so I had a lot of friends.

KATIE: I was gonna say you have 16 friends? I need to work on my social skills.

ZACH: It was a different time, Katie. I have far fewer friends today. And we used to get together and play it. But you know, it’s just -- there was no organization to it, right? It's just, “Hey, we're all gonna get together and hang out, right?” And so, me and one of my other friends were kind of like quote, unquote “in charge.” So whenever there would be like a cloud or a or 10% chance of rain, we get like a text or something like, “Hey, are we still playing baseball?” Like, “Yeah, yeah we are. Why don't we just all just show up together and have fun and figure it out from there.”

KATIE: Yeah. Until there’s a lightning delay.

ZACH: Yeah.

KATIE: Like, game’s on.

ZACH: That’s my outlook on it. So, if there’s something you really wanna do, don’t let the weather stop you.

KATIE: So, I find it interesting because to me it's not the like the weather that -- it feels like, it's literally my sense of like, I'm just tired, I don't wanna go out. And for me again, it's less of the weather in your mind, it's more of just like, no, I don't feel like doing this. So, I really liked how he kind of recommended shifting your frame of mind around the weather if it is something that kind of just feels like it brings you down.


ZACH: How often do you check the weather, Katie?


KATIE: I mean, probably too much. Is this like part of getting older where you just like obsess about the weather too much? Like, I know that's the joke, but I -- it's on my watch. I check my app every day. I read Space City Weather.


KATIE: Every day. And that's my favorite weather news outlet. Also, their posts are kind of just fun and I always appreciate their candid, humorous approach to the weather we're dealing with at the current time. But yeah, I've gotten into the weather. I don't know if it's me getting older or just, you know, what that is.


ZACH: Well, that might play into your anxiety.

KATIE: It probably does. But also, it's one of those things where I feel informed. Like, I know, you know, for instance there might be some thunderstorms today, actually, some scary ones. And so, it's like I need to be looking to see if there's gonna be street flooding. I think at some point there's some amount of being prepared but not over prepared, which Dr. Orme also talked about. Especially in severe weather events, how do you make sure you have all the information you need to prepare and be safe, but not get yourself into this spiral where you're out of control about things you cannot control.


ZACH: Yeah, we’re not all Storm from the X-Men. We can’t control the weather, Katie.

KATIE: God, I wish we were. Her haircut at least would be great. I would love to have Storm’s haircut.

ZACH: Now Katie, we've mentioned Space City Weather a couple times. We have a very special guest coming up, don't we?


KATIE: That’s right. We have Eric Berger coming up after the break.


[Music plays signaling break]

KATIE: We're back from our break and we've got Eric Berger. He's a journalist, meteorologist, and the founder and editor of Space City Weather, a Houston weather website. He's also the senior space editor at ARS Technica, a news website covering technology, science, and space. He also previously worked for the Houston Chronicle, launching their science and technology blog called “SciGuy.” He wrote about Weather for the Chronicle as well. And notably, his coverage of Hurricane Ike, the 2008 category four hurricane that wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast, particularly in Texas, led to a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News in 2009.

[Sound effect signaling beginning of interview]


 So, we have with us here today, journalist, meteorologist, founder of Space City Weather, and Houston icon, I would say myself, Eric Berger. Eric, thank you so much for being with us today.


ERIC: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.

KATIE: So, Space City weather in my mind, I've been a reader for a long time and it's kind of this perfect place for me to go to get my weather news because it feels like it's more than just a weather report. It's not just some charts with like temperatures and chances of rainfall. There's like empathy in the way you guys write your posts, and they're long form posts, you know, where there's lots of words and context. I wanted to start by asking you to talk us through how you explain Space City Weather to a non-Houstonian, ‘cause I think all of us Houstonians know what it is, but also why you created it and what the goal of it is?


ERIC: Yeah, so Houston has a lot of crazy weather. And you know, I've been here a long time now, and I still remember very vividly my first tropical experiences when this torrential rainfall came down and Interstate 10 filled up with water, and it became a canal rather than a freeway. And I was completely unprepared for that. And so, you know, over my journalistic career I've written a lot about weather and have come to understand, you know, that the best way to help people understand that is to explain it in a way to bring them along. And the way I like to think about Space City Weather is it’s -- I have a large extended family here in Houston, through my wife's family. And you know, I know the kinds of questions they're asking, and so the goal really with the site is to answer those questions and come to people where they are, you know, with their uncertainties, their concerns, their fears, “What does it mean for me?” And really try to explain that. And I think it really helps that we're not a national site, we're very grounded in Houston and so we're going through the same kinds of experiences and just trying to help people understand what's happening, why it's happening, and what they can expect next.


KATIE: Yeah, I love that because you talk about experiences and even on a slow weather day, I think of y'all's site as a place that we can all come together and read about the weather as an experience. So, I'm thinking if it's a gorgeous spring day, you know, usually you guys have this kinda like clever title and there's a lot of positivity and how you talk about the weather report. And then, you know, when we get into the depths of summer, there's maybe like a sense of shared misery almost, or that's what I'm taking away from it, which I love because I am a person who I do -- even if the science says that at a population level, the weather doesn't affect our mood, I feel like it affects my mood, particularly in the summer. Is that y'all's intention with those slow, slow weather day posts, the in-betweens, or am I kind of reading into that ‘cause I think it affects my mood?

ERIC: Well, imagine this Katie, imagine you are a forecaster and you are in like day ten of this high pressure system where it's completely sunny, it's 95 degrees out, and that's the forecast that's been for a week or ten days, and that's the -- looking at the models, that's what it's gonna be for the next ten days, and you've gotta write four or 500 words about that. So, you know, we're kind of reflecting our moods there, right? We're like, “Man this weather's really pretty rotten and it's gonna continue to be pretty rotten.” And so, there's not a whole lot of premeditation behind it. I get up in the morning, look at the forecast and kind of write what I see and feel about the conditions.


KATIE: Yeah. And so, you guys probably feel it on a deeper level almost that affects your mood. ‘Cause now you're having to like, write about it and put your thoughts on paper of like, here's what the temperature looks like and here's how I think I'm gonna feel about it.


ERIC: Yeah, and there's also this element of, you know, we'll get lots of questions like, mothers or brides to be will write and say, “We've got our big wedding or this event this weekend or next weekend.” And so, they're like, “The forecast is iffy.” And I'll say, “Well, I think it's a pretty good chance of rain or a pretty good chance it'll be all right.” And then -- so then fast forward to that Saturday night and I'm out doing something or at home watching a movie or whatever. And then I'll see it start raining, I'll think, “Man, I really hope things are okay at that person's wedding.” So, you kinda have that back burner kind of stuff going on in your mind too, where you're really trying to help people. But in weather, oftentimes, there really are no absolutes and so you have to give people probabilities.


KATIE:  Yeah, absolutely. So, Eric, I have to ask you, do you think the weather affects your mood?

ERIC: Absolutely. I mean, it’s --

KATIE:  It’s not just me then?

ERIC: I get real stir crazy toward the end of August because at that point you've sort of had May when it's heating up, June, July and August, which are really hot and humid, and you're starting to get really desperate for that first fall front. And so, you know, every day you look at it like a 14, 15, 16-day model. And it's, is there any hint at all that something is coming down the line atmospherically? And then when it's not, it's pretty depressing.


KATIE: Yeah. It's funny that you -- August is the same for me. Usually by August is when, like even people around me will be like, “Hey, you okay?” Because I'm just like -- I'm internally closing in. I'm just like, “I'm exhausted.” I'm over it essentially. And so, I absolutely think it affects my mood. And that's -- I think one of the reasons why I love y'all's posts is ‘cause I'm -- I feel like, like you said, I'm along for the ride with, as you guys are talking about these reports.

ERIC: So, Matt -- Matt and I actually have this debate between us whether August or September is the worst weather month in Houston. Yeah. And I'm a very strong proponent that August is the worst month because it's the hottest. There really is no hope for a meaningful front and it's often a drought. And he's a very big proponent for September because he is like, “Look, September is supposed to be fall, and you're expecting cool weather. And oftentimes we see very hot weather in early September. It just continues dragging on and on. And some years we don't get a front in September, and also September is the peak of hurricane season. So yeah, August and September are the worst.


KATIE: Yeah. I think there's something about August, maybe it's stages of grief or something, I don't know, but it's like August is when your peak like, “I'm so miserable. Can I keep doing this?” And I think by September I'm like, “This is my fate. I chose to live here. Here I am. I'm still miserable, but you know, it is what it is. I have to move on.”

ERIC: By September, you know, that change is around the corner.

KATIE: That too, I get hopeful in September, even if it's still miserable. There's been years where there's, I won't call it a cold front, but a cool front will come in where at least like maybe it's not quite as humid or something like that where I can cling on to that hope. Whereas August, in my mind, has always just been awful.


ERIC: Yeah, that's -- I agree with you. I'm definitely on team August is the worst month.

KATIE: Okay. I wanted to talk to you about severe weather because I think that's something that in Houston is inevitable for us. And a lot of what we wanted to get out of this segment of this episode was helping give people confidence around how to approach severe weather and prepare for severe weather. And I've noticed that when I'm reading your posts about severe weather events that are coming and things are coming and you're warning us, they take a different tone, I would say they get much more serious. Is that on purpose?


ERIC: Yeah, I mean a lot of the time on Space City Weather, we like to have fun and it's pretty lighthearted and you can, you know, make light of what's happening. But when there's inclement weather, you know, we change the tone. And I think one of the highest compliments we can get is that, “Well, I wasn't really paying too much attention to this weather system or that hurricane until Eric and Matt said we should take it seriously, and then that made me pay attention.” So, we -- yeah, that's definitely by design. When there's inclement weather in the offing, we, we tell people to pay attention and then very deliberately, you know, like we did with Hurricane Harvey and a couple other weather events, you know, in the last five to seven years we'll say, “Hey look Houston, this is very serious. And here's what you need to be doing.” And you know, it's really interesting. We do that and there has been like a pretty good reaction from local governments too. Like when we start to really take it -- things seriously, sometimes their rhetoric or language becomes more serious as well.


KATIE: Even just as a reader, I would echo that. I think of Hurricane Laura for me because we were brand new homeowners like less than a month. And we had bought this, you know, we'd paid a small fortune for this monstrosity of a townhome that's super tall, has basically a whole wall of eastern facing windows. Hurricane Laura was coming, and we were just like, “How panicked do we need to be?” We've -- you know, I've gone through hurricanes as a Houstonian since my childhood and, you know, preparing to lose power, or “Do we need to leave?” Those sorts of things. Hunker down or leave. I'd never had to deal with like the property aspect of “I need to go get some trusted information because like, do I need to be boarding my windows?” This sort of thing. And I think if Hurricane Laura, ‘cause I was checking y'all’s site constantly to be like, okay, stay or go? You know, there were some posts leading up to it where I was like, “Okay, I feel good about staying now. Board the windows or not. Is that even a thing? I don't know.” Again, new homeowner here. And even when I got down to, “Let's stay, let's not board the windows,” I was still like checking my Twitter feed -- y'all's Twitter feed constantly and having that trusted source, Dr. Orme talked about this, part of coping with the stress and preparing and the stress around the preparing is having, you know, friends and family but then also a trusted source of information. And I think you guys really speak to that. And I was reading an article, I think a few years ago maybe now, I think it was Texas Monthly or something where you guys were talking about after Harvey, Space City Weather became almost like community service to some extent. So, can you talk to us about that a little bit? And I guess from the angle of like how have you seen stress and anxiety play out in some of the ways you interact with people and the weather?


ERIC: Yeah, you know, that's really interesting about the, the public service comment because I have a 20-year career as a journalist, right. I have a --purely a media background. Matt Lanza, my partner on Space City Weather doesn't. He's a -- he comes from a meteorology background. But it's -- people do not see us as a news site. They really see us as like a -- as you say, a public service site. And I think a lot of that was born in Hurricane Harvey. So, what we noticed after that in 2017 was every time there was an impending heavy rainfall event, people would have PTSD-like reactions to it. Not everyone, but a certain segment of the population when there was heavy rain would sort of harken back to that really dark four- or five-day period when it, you know, the whole city flooded. And in response to that we created the -- this flood scale to help people manage their expectations. And it goes from one to five. The reason we did that was not because we think the National Weather Service is doing a bad job or we have these grand aspirations to becoming like this super, you know, private forecasting entity, but really just to help people set expectations. Like, “Okay, this is only gonna be a one or two, so, you know, it’s probably -- it may be -- flood the streets for a little while but it’s not gonna, you know, damage  your property or things like that.” And so, that was a really a -- our thoughtful attempt to address those weather anxieties that you’re talking about. And the fact of the matter is when severe weather of whatever kind is threatening, be it an ice storm like we saw a few years ago around Valentine’s day, very cold weather, flooding, drought, hurricane, tornados, you know, we get almost everything here but earthquakes, knock on wood, the idea is to help people set expectations and then try to give them meaningful advice on how to prepare. And that’s challenging, right? Because you know, if you’re in Midtown with a townhome, your experience is very different than someone who lives in Galveston or someone who lives in the Woodlands or Katy. And so, we have to be very cognizant of the fact that we’re broadcast -- or we’re talking to this huge area. And also, the really big thing is there is still a lot of uncertainty. So, what we try to do is tell people what we know and what we don’t, and then give them a sense of when we might have a better idea about what we know and what we don’t.


KATIE: Yeah, I’m glad you brought up the flood scale because I love that thing. And I love that you guys also put each level in context of stuff we’ve already gone through like, I don’t remember all of them ‘cause I usually just look at it and that’s how I set my own expectations. Like, “Oh, this is like the Memorial Day floods,” which people not from Houston won't understand, but people from Houston will be like, “Oh, yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. My car got flooded on a street I drive on every single day.” You know, it’s those sorts of things that -- I’m interested to hear your perspective on -- when you guys are interacting with your readers, I mean you have your -- your social accounts are very active, emails go out, what kind of comments do you get and things like that around severe weather events? And do you see people’s anxieties and you know, symptoms of PTSD coming out like firsthand right in front of you?

ERIC: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we get, you know, there's -- we get so many emails around -- cause there's a form on the site you can fill out and it goes right to Matt and me. We get so many emails we just can't respond to 'em all. And I feel terrible. But, you know, it's like during that time it's like working 20 hours a day trying to keep up with all the forecasting and the writing and interviews and things like that. And so, it's challenging. But absolutely, people just -- as I say, weather is a hyperlocal thing and for most people it's like, “What does this mean for me?” And everyone has different -- everyone has different circumstances. And so again, that's the challenge of writing for a site that encompasses such a broad geographical area, and everyone has a different situation. But yeah, I mean, the goal is to try to help people put it into context because every hurricane is different.

You know, you mentioned -- you mentioned Hurricane Laura from a couple of years ago. That storm scared the heck outta me too. Because the fact of the matter is this region has not faced a windstorm since 1961 with Hurricane Carla. And, you know, we had Alicia in 1983 and Hurricane Ike in 2012, but those storms -- I'm sorry, hurricane Ike was 2008, excuse me. We have not seen really a major direct hit by a category three hurricane or above. That's what Laura had the potential to be, is like category four at landfall, major wind damage. Now, it turned and hit Louisiana that year, just like about every other storm. But yeah, it's -- every hurricane has a different threat, right? It could be inland rainfall, like we saw with Harvey. It could be winds, it could be storm surge like with Ike. So, it's, it's helping people understand what their threats are. Because like, if you're in Central Houston or West Houston, you're not worried about storm surge, but you're worried about wind, and you're worried about -- you know, you're worried about inland rainfall.


KATIE: Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of the, what it means for me aspect, you know, tips for prepping I think is probably a big thing we can -- we could talk about today. Before we kind of dig into maybe specific hurricane tips, wanted to take a step back and say, are there any tips you would give to people generally about preparing for the weather? Whether it's the random freeze that, you know, we had a few years ago that I don't think any of us thought would be a big deal. Not really -- I mean, maybe you guys did. I, you know, was like, “Oh, it's gonna freeze.” But any tips, you know, should we all have weather radios for any kind of event? Like do you have any just overarching tips you'd say when approaching the weather without getting too stressed?

ERIC: I mean, the general tip I would have, in Houston, a lot of the threats are driven by very strong thunderstorms. Like, so do you wanna be caught out on the road in that? Are you having a party or something like that? What you need to know is to have a really good radar app on your phone. Because then you can look at that and you can get some sense of how much of a threat your area is under for the next hour or two by looking at what conditions are like right now and where storms have moved over the last 20 or 30 minutes. That will really help guide your immediate short-term decisions and should help you keep out of harm's way.

KATIE: Okay. Yeah. Moving on to some hurricane specific tips. We are officially in hurricane season now here in Houston. Are there any tips you would give people for preparing, ones even as much as like, “Hey, go out and do this at the next lunch break you have.” And then also maybe tips when like, something's coming, here's how we should be preparing. And I know you've already mentioned that it's gonna vary based on what the concern is. Is it wind, is it flooding? But is there anything you would tell people just to get ‘em started?

ERIC: Yeah, the most important thing you can do, what you can do right now is understand your vulnerabilities to a hurricane. So, you know, there are three primary threats. There is storm surge. And so, if you live in Galveston or along Galveston Bay or along, you know, near the Houston ship channel, basically if you live near coastal waterways, know how high you are above the water and the kind of threat that you're in. And there are these things called storm surge inundation maps that you can Google and find online to get a sense of, of like, is a category three or four or five hurricane likely to put water into my home? So, understand your storm surge vulnerability, understand your wind vulnerability. And so obviously again, if you live near the coast, your wind vulnerability is highest because winds die down as the storm moves inland. And you know, is not -- is sort of basically an interaction with the friction of land. And also, it -- as it comes as shore, of course the circulation starts to weaken. But you know, large swaths of the Houston area are vulnerable to wind and it's very dependent upon the track of the storm. But you know, how high up is your residence? How many winds -- windows do you have? How big are they? Do you have some way to cover them up, protect them, board them up or whatever in case the worst does happen and a major windstorm comes. So that's another issue. And then the final one is how vulnerable are you to inland flooding? So, do you live near a bayou? Did your property flood during Hurricane Harvey or tropical storm Allison? What is the flood history of the property? And then you need to sort of understand, “Okay, under what circumstances would I evacuate?” The only people that really absolutely have to evacuate I think are people who are in the threat of storm surge, because that is the most deadliest part of a hurricane. Cause the water comes up very quickly, people get stuck, washed away. I mean, it -- that is the most dynamic part of the storm is storm surge. And so, if you live in a coastal area where it could flood, then you need to probably have a pretty solid plan for evacuation. But that’s complicated. Because, you know, after hurricane Ike power to large parts of the area was out for two weeks or longer. And so, are you prepared to go without power for a couple weeks or longer in the aftermath of the storm? And you know, for some people a reasonable compromise to that is, “Okay, I'm gonna stay here, ride it out and see how it goes. And then if it's really bad, then we can evacuate after the storm, a day or two after the storm.” But it's really sort of understanding that, and people have all kinds of complications. They have pets, they have loved ones, they have, you know, people who need power 24/7 for, for medical equipment as you well know. And so that's a very personal decision. But it's very important I think to understand now your vulnerabilities, and in which circumstances you would evacuate. So that when the actual storm does come, if it does, you have a plan in place. Because if you know you're gonna evacuate, then you say, “Well I'm gonna go to my cousin’s who lives up in Texarkana. Or we're gonna go to a hotel we like in San Antonio.” But kind of having that plan in place now will make it that much easier to put it into action when sort of that time of immediacy comes.

KATIE: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's interesting too. And again, for us, we were new homeowners with Laura. It's something I wish I had thought about before the panic of, “Oh this thing's coming at us and we do have a ton of windows.” And it was questions as simple as you mentioned, know what your vulnerabilities are. It was quickly apparent to us that our vulnerabilities were the windows, but then we're like, “How do you board, can we board windows?” First of all, it's tall, we can't board all of 'em. And then is tape helpful? I think there's just a lot of, so that's good to know. There’s a lot of -- he’ shaking his head, maybe no. So…

ERIC: Tape is not gonna help.

KATIE: That wasn’t the time for us to be -- it was kind of almost too late for us to be thinking about boarding our windows because we would need like a lift, essentially. Like, we can’t really use a ladder where we are. You know, there’s a lot that goes into having a townhome. Anyways, I digress, I think I really love that advice, and it’s something that I think we can all do immediately, too. We all know what our residence is like. The internet exists for us to look this stuff up. So, that’s great. I wanted to also talk to you about how you guys prepare for huge weather events, and in particular, I know I read an article a while back  where Lee, your server admin, he wrote this article, essentially, of like, how your site prepares to handle for these weather events. And one of them that I remembered, I think it was after Laura as well, as you can tell, like, that one has stuck in my head a lot because I got so stressed about it. You know, there’s this like catchy section that was like, “How much traffic just blew through our site.” Which, you know, I love a good pun. But I also remember the number being insanely impressive. And I was going back to look it up, but then I got distracted by another post of his where he actually talks about -- essentially, he had this quote ending his -- this article that was like, “Like you, I know how visceral it can feel -- the feelings can be a to face down a cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico.” And it was kind of just like, I was like that speaks volumes even more than numbers almost. Just because it’s just this really visceral thing, and it speaks to where your pl -- knowing your vulnerabilities and having a plan is just so important. ‘Cause you’re not gonna be able to think clearly. And my mind, I’m not gonna be able to think clearly when the time comes, so I need to, like, have some of that already there ready for me.

ERIC: That’s exactly right, and that’s really why we give that advice, and that’s why, frankly, emergency preparedness is all about getting ready before the start of hurricane season so that once things happen, you’re ready to go. Because you’re right. I mean, in the immediacy of an event, it’s very stressful. Everyone has busy lives where there’s lots of things going on. There are challenges in making plans at that point. The hotel rooms in San Antonio are gonna be booked up.


ERIC: So, all of that is important. And the reality is, we don’t how long you’re going to have to prepare. Because Ike, going back to that in 2008, we had ten days. Like, it was way out in the Atlantic we were tracking it. And I just remember vividly ‘cause it was a lot of work every one of those days watching the storm get closer and closer and closer. And you know, as -- at ten days out, you have no idea whether it’s actually going to impact you, but you have a sense of whether it could. And then as it gets closer, the probability of it impacting you goes up. But then like, the next year or two later there was this storm called Umberto which formed and made landfall in Galveston Island, or just north of Galveston Island in less than 24 hours.

KATIE: Oh, wow.

ERIC: And so, like, there was no time to prepare for that. And so, that’s -- that’s one of the threats is these really quickly developing storms in the Gulf of Mexico, then moving ashore within one to three days, there is not time to make all these plans. You have a to have plan of action and act immediately. And so that’s, you know, again, sort of having a general sense of how you would take care of all of things you need to take care of for a storm, sort of thinking that through now is the thing to do.

KATIE: Yeah, and speaking of projections, in the sense of the ten days, you know, we had ten days with Ike to kind of sort looking at projections, Umberto, 24 hours, as far as projections go for hurricane season, my first question about projections, you know, again, we’re officially in hurricane season, can you give us a way too early projection for how this season goes? Or are those kind of, meh, not worth it?

ERIC: So, seasonal predictions have some value, certainly, they’re useful as a scientific exercise because if you make predictions every year and you put out there your scientific justification for how you arrived at those predictions, and at the end of the year you look at what you got right and what you got wrong, then you improve that, that is scientific research, and that’s what people at Colorado State do and some other organizations. So, from that sense, I think there’s value. And in general, you can look at a season and have a pretty good idea of whether it’s gonna be above, below, or normal in terms of activity.  This year, it’s challenging because we’re highly confident now that there will be an El Nino in place in the Pacific Ocean. That simply means there’s warmer sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Now, that seems, “Well, the oceans are hotter, that can’t be good for hurricane season.” But actually, what that means in terms of teleconnections for the Atlantic Ocean is a more disturbed atmosphere. There’s greater wind shear. And so, the atmosphere is more hostile for storm circulations to really get organized and spinning. The downside for this year is that sea surface temperatures look really warm in the Atlantic as well. And that warmer sea surface temperatures means there’s essentially more energy for these storms and there’s a higher likelihood of forming. So, you’ve kind of got that -- this push and pull between the El Nino and very warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic. The sea surface temperatures we’re seeing out there are, you know, consistent with what we’ve seen in the past for very busy Atlantic seasons. So, the middle of the road forecast is looking at this saying, well it’s probably gonna be about a below normal season or a near normal season because of El Nino -- if it’s a fairly strong El Nino. However, you know, given once storms get forming there’s lots of fuel out there in terms of sea surface temperature, there very well could be some very powerful Atlantic hurricanes. So, you know, the advice for preparation doesn't really change, you know, for going into a hurricane season. You could still see a very bad storm.

KATIE: Okay. Thank you. I think reiterating your point too, of still knowing your vulnerabilities, still preparing, and that's gonna go a long way towards if something does happen, at least your brain is kind of at a level where there's an -- as even of a playing field as you could possibly get when you're facing an impending hurricane being like, “I know what I need to do. Now, I just need to decide when it's the right time to do certain things so.”

ERIC: The age-old wisdom is, you know, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. And honestly, that’s great advice.

KATIE: Yeah, absolutely. Well, on that note, we wanted to thank you for being on the podcast today. We’ve been really excited to talk to you. So, thanks so much for joining us.

ERIC: It's my pleasure. You know, if I could just leave you and your listeners with one thought in terms of anxiety or worrying about hurricane season. I mean the reality of the matter is that these are very scary events for a lot of people. And it's -- you have property, you have family, you have pets, you're worried, right, about what's gonna happen to them in the aftermath of the storm. And that creates anxiety when living along the Gulf Coast. I would just say that, you know, it's something that should not be front of mind every day in Houston from June through November. First of all, our season really does end at the end of September for all practical purposes. So, it's not like you have to hold out for six months. Also, most of the storms happen in August and September. And then finally I would just say, you know, look, these events are bad, but they're also pretty rare, all things considered. Historically, Houston has seen really significant impacts from a hurricane or a tropical storm about once every ten years. So yes, be prepared, be ready, but don't like be stressing about this, you know, every day in the summer in Houston.

KATIE: Yeah, absolutely. I'm gonna rethink my window situation coming out of this, so thank you. I appreciate it.

ERIC: Good.

KATIE: Well thanks so much. Really appreciate you being on today.

ERIC: My pleasure.

KATIE: I've been reading Space City Weather for quite a while now. I would say after Harvey is when I got clued into sort of their no-hype weather forecasting. They post pretty much every single day about the weather. It's essentially, you read a blog post about the weather forecast for the next couple of days. So, it's a different way of probably taking in weather information, but I really like it. It works for me.

ZACH: Yeah, it injects some personality in what could be a dry topic if you’re not really plugged in or engaged with it.

KATIE: Yeah, and maybe this again speaks to I am a person who I feel like the weather affects me. And so, I like this approach ‘cause it’s like, yeah, there is more to this story. It not just, you know 97 degrees today. Like, I wanna hear their take on what the 97 degrees mean.

ZACH: It’s not just 97 degrees today.

KATIE: I think that’s probably -- I never have noticed why I like it so much and I bet that’s why. I’m just -- to me, it’s more personal than just the temperature. It’s like, “The heat’s coming after me, isn’t it?”

ZACH: Now, I became aware of them much like yourself after Hurricane Harvey. Again, I’m coming at the weather from a different place than you are, so it’s not at the top of my mind, “Oh, let me go read this analysis of the forecast.”

KATIE: It’s not the first thing you do every morning? ‘Cause it’s almost the first thing I do every morning.

ZACH: My wife and on the hand definitely wants to know like, what's the percentage? What's the temperature? That kind of thing. Big follower of Space City Weather as well. So, I've kind of learned about it through her, post-Harvey and all that because I think that was front of our minds, right? Post-Harvey, like, what happened? How did this happen? Is it gonna happen again? How can we alleviate the damage, you know, moving forward and better protect ourselves from massive weather events. Because we've had hurricanes over the years here in Houston, storms, we had tropical storm Allison, we had hurricane Ike, but nothing like Harvey. I think that woke up a lot of people to tuning into weather information.

KATIE: Have you had one of these significant weather events like Harvey, or something affect you?

ZACH: I have. Now, as I mentioned, I was out of town during Hurricane Harvey, but my car was not out of town. And my car was flooded during the hurricane while I was outta town. And --

KATIE: I’m sorry.

ZACH: Obviously that's something -- again, something outta your control, right? I mean, who would've known, you know, “Oh, you, if you parked here or there,” you play that game all day long.

KATIE: I don’t -- and I don’t even think it mattered where you parked your car in some cases. A lot of the city was under water.

ZACH: Right. So many areas of the city that you would never think would flood and had never flooded to that point did. You know, it was just -- we all experienced some form of loss or knew someone who lost something. And I mean, I have friends and family members whose homes or cars were affected, or properties, and for all the strife it cost, hurricane Harvey really showed, you know, Houston coming together and really helping each other out and being a good neighbor. And I felt a lot of, you know, solidarity as a city through all that. It was a real seminal moment in Houston History.

KATIE: Yeah, it definitely was. I don't think anybody came out of Hurricane Harvey without some story either personal or, you know, a close friend or family member. It speaks a lot to the unpredictability of weather. We all knew the hurricane was coming toward us. It actually hit south of us, which seemed to be good news at first. And then it's just this cloud that hung over the city for days. But it -- that unpredictability is the thing we can never predict for lack of a better word. And -- but I think Eric talked a lot about knowing your vulnerabilities because that is, again, talking about things you can control, what you can control is knowing your vulnerabilities in your life, in your house. Whether it's you have young kids, so you should evacuate probably sooner than someone who doesn't have kids. But as a new homeowner, I hadn't really thought of it like that. I think, “Oh, I'll just deal with it when the time comes.” And that's like the worst thing to do, especially for your stress and anxiety.

ZACH: I’m glad that Eric pointed out that putting tape on the windows will not help.

KATIE: Oh, for sure. I thought it, I mean honestly, it's one of those things where you think you're doing something and it's like, “No, that just would've been a false sense of security.” Great.


Yeah, I think between Dr. Orme and Eric, I got some concrete takeaways for next steps I'm gonna do just to prepare my house and my family and things like that.

ZACH: Yeah, I have a hurricane kit at my house. I recommend everyone does.

KATIE: Nice.

ZACH: We have batteries, canned goods, flashlights.

KATIE: I don’t have one, so…

ZACH: Headlamps. I mean, you can go online. There's lots of helpful guides, especially these hurricane guides you'll see around town during hurricane season, news broadcasts about them, that there's lots of materials out there. You can easily find resources to help you prepare for severe weather events. And we recommend you guys check all those out. That's gonna do it for us this week on the On Health Podcast. And we encourage you all to go to our blog at houstonmethodist.org/blog and to share a like and subscribe to our podcast. New episodes drop Tuesday mornings. So, until then, stay tuned and stay healthy.

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