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Release: Aug. 30, 2000

UI, KGAN to offer 'Coping With Severe Weather Phobia' Sept. 30

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Do violent thunderstorms make your heart pound? Does a forecast for tornadoes immobilize you?

University of Iowa counseling psychology professor John Westefeld is teaming up with KGAN-TV Chief Meteorologist Roger Evans from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30 to offer "Coping With Severe Weather Phobia." The program will be in the UI's Lindquist Center, which houses the College of Education. People interested in registering for the workshop should e-mail Westefeld at john-westefeld@uiowa.edu, or call him at (319) 335-5562.

Developed by Westfeld and Evans, the free workshop -- believed to be one of the first of its kind nationally -- is patterned after programs created for people who are afraid to fly in airplanes. Such programs are typically team-taught by pilots and psychologists.

In the severe weather workshop, Evans will spend part of the session explaining the science of severe weather -- for instance, what causes severe weather and what the chances are of actually being harmed by it -- while Westefeld will teach techniques for reducing stress and anxiety caused by severe weather.

Westefeld coined the term severe weather phobia to describe the debilitating, persistent and irrational fear of thunderstorms and their phenomena, such as lightning, thunder, wind, hail, and tornadoes. He has been working toward the development of a treatment program since he began researching the phobia in the mid-1990s. The Sept. 30 seminar is the first fruit of those efforts.

Westefeld, a professor in the UI College of Education's Division of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations, will also discuss resources available for people with extreme fear of bad weather. One such resource is a Web site created specifically for weather phobia sufferers, http://www.stormphobia.org.

In addition to offering advice, the site is becoming a clearinghouse for research in this relatively young field. A paper by Westfeld on severe weather phobia is available on-line at the Web site.