The Weather Impacts Mood: Hurricanes and Barometric Pressure

Weather impacts your mood. It’s true. Ever heard of a sunny disposition or a fair-weather friend? Ever get wind of something or have your head in the clouds? Our more colorful idioms are filled with weather references:
As right as rain
Be a breeze
Calm before the storm
Chase rainbows
Come rain or shine
Every cloud has a silver lining
Head in the clouds
It never rains but it pours
It’s raining cats and dogs
On cloud nine

These common expressions make sense, especially in New England, where if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute, it will change. But as Hurricane Matthew bears down on the Carribean and the Southern United States, weather impacts your mood (and possibly your survival) in much more significant ways. The Weather Channel and CNN will keep you apprised of those impacts.  For the purpose of this post, we want to explore weather’s more subtle influences.

In part, weather impacts your mood because of barometric pressure. Fluctuations in barometric pressure can trigger headaches or cause your arthritis to flare up, which will definitely affect your mood. Barometric pressure is the weight of the air that surrounds us. Our bodies are  made up of about 60% water; water responds to air (think of white caps on the sea) and changes in pressure (think of scuba divers surfacing too quickly).

Barometric pressure falls significantly in the advance of a big storm, this dropping pressure acts upon the joints and tissues of the body, especially on those that have suffered trauma. Pressure on joints and tissues causes them to expand and prompt our nerves to send out pain signals. Pain has a great influence on mood, thus the weather impacts mood.

In the event of such a significant storm as a hurricane, barometric pressure drops off the charts. Hurricanes are essentially overblown tropical cyclones. They develop over the ocean near the equator and feed on warm, moist air. That warm, moist air rises which causes a drop in pressure on the surface of the ocean. Higher pressure air rushes in to equalize this pressure difference, but over the warm equatorial seas, that air is also warm, so it too rises. As all that warm air rises, it starts to swirl and eventually cool off and form clouds. When fed by the warm ocean, this whole system of steamy air, building clouds, and swirling winds grows. Without any land masses to slow it down, the system keeps growing and growing.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale categorizes hurricanes by number. A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74-95 mph, Category 2 has winds of 96-110 mph. The latest news says that Matthew could reach Category 5 strength. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center, this is when “Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

Wow! That certainly puts a little arthritis flare up into perspective. Our thoughts are with everyone in front of that extreme weather. Be safe. Take good care.