Parents hope workshop in Cape helps children with storm phobias

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ever since a tornado tore through Jackson on May 6, 2003, 10-year-old Lydia Pensel has had a phobia of storms.

Even though the twister missed the Pensel family home, thunderstorms and the prospect of bad weather cause Lydia to be what she describes as "very anxious."

Lydia and parents Pam and Rodney Pensel were among 17 adults and children attending Saturday's severe weather workshop at West Park Mall in Cape Girardeau.

Stacy and Andy Taylor of Cape Girardeau attended the seminar in hopes of learning how to help their son, Caleb, 7, overcome his fear of storms. Caleb has been terrified of storms since a wind gust launched a trampoline into their home two years ago.

While storm phobias in children are often related to specific events such as the those the Pensels and Taylors experienced, sometimes the cause can't be explained.

Sarah Finney of Oran, Mo., said her daughter, Taylor, has shown signs of storm phobia since she was a year old.

"She cries, she throws up, she can't eat," Finney said of Taylor, who is now 7.

Social worker Diana Harold told the group that some fear of storms is normal.

"A little worry is OK," Harold said, "because it makes us prepare." It is when that fear disrupts normal life that it becomes unhealthy.

Pat Spoden of the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., offered insight into storm forecasting and storm safety suggestions. He said families can reduce the fear of storms by being better informed and educated.

Jason Lindsey, whose "Hooked on Science" television segments are seen on 10 stations and blog is on semissourian.com, told the audience how his own fear of storms as a child led to his career as a meteorologist.

"I was terrified of storms as a child," Lindsey said. "I can remember hiding under the mattress during a thunderstorm."

Lindsey faced his fear by learning all he could about storms, which he credits with leading to his decision to become a meteorologist.

Lydia Pensel has been taking the same approach to overcoming her phobia. She is a regular visitor to weather-related websites.

She said she thinks the seminar will help her.

"I learned here that I'm not the only one" with a storm phobia, Lydia said.

The event was sponsored by the National Weather Service, "Hooked on Science" and the Office of Extended and Continuing Education at Southeast Missouri State University.

Pertinent address:

3049 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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