Panic set in after the May 22 tornado
November 03, 2011
By Karin R. Herrmann

My husband Jerry and I moved to Miami, Oklahoma from Arizona in June 2010. For a while, I worked at Sears in Joplin and I shopped in Joplin on a regular basis. Previously I had lived in Utah, Virginia, and Oregon, but I had never lived in the Midwest before, although my Dad is from Adair, OK and my Mom is from Eastern Missouri. During family visits I always loved this part of the country; I never thought too much about tornadoes, I just sort of figured Iíd live with them...

The terrible tornado season this spring frightened me out of my wits. When the EF-5 went through Joplin on May 22, 2011, I was stunned at the unimaginable damage. I found it hard to believe that anything made out of air could do that much damage to sturdy buildings.

I didnít realize at first that I developed a severe fear of tornadoes (lilapsophobia) following this event. I avoided considering this possibility as much as I avoided going to Joplin when the summer arrived. I cried several times, I grieved for the beautiful city of Joplin that had lost so much when I had experienced no damage. It took me about two months to fully realize that I might be especially afraid of tornadoes, but two days after Joplinís tornado, something happened to give me a clue.

On May 24, 2011, Jerry called me from work and told me that Miami would get a visit from a tornado between 3 and 5 p.m. I panicked, trembled, wept, panted, and ran around the house gathering documents to throw into portable safes, and threw them into the bathroom. I got blankets and pillows and threw them in the bathtub. My heart was beating faster than any other time that I recall. I accidentally lost documents that I needed immediately because I put them into the safes, and spent precious minutes, and over an hour trying to find them.

At three oíclock I called my husband and moaned about the papers I couldnít find. I yelled and cried and begged him to come home, and because I suddenly felt like I was going to throw up, I hung up. I curled into a heap on the floor, felt a little bit like I was having an out-of-body experience, and realized that I must have just had my first panic attack.

I grabbed computer backup disks and water bottles and saltine crackers, and a first aid kit, and threw them into bathroom drawers. At about 3:45 p.m. Jerry called to make sure I was OK, and in a tiny voice I said I was. Then he told me we would get a tornado between 8 and 11 p.m. So, we decided I had prepared us well enough during my awful panic that we would go out and get a pizza. I relaxed a little. I remember praying quietly at some point that day.

Before I went to bed, I remember seeing a very large, round pair of brown eyes staring at me from our mirror. At first I didnít believe I could possibly be that afraid. It took several weeks to accept that, in fact, I was more afraid of tornadoes than I had been of anything in my life.

The tornado warning was not lifted until close to 3 a.m. on May 25, but we were not hit with any of the tornadoes that ravaged Oklahoma that night. There were at least five in Delaware County, and some were fairly close to Ottawa County, where we live. There were so many around Muskogee, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City that I donít remember how many in total.

For the next few months I would drive everyone crazy talking about the weather and, in particular, about if/when or where tornadoes might appear again. For a while, I avoided going to Joplin because I didnít like to see all the destruction.

I would continuously spend hours per day watching the weather channel, the NWS page on the internet, and our newly purchased weather radio. And after the storm shelter that we ordered in June from New Day Tornado Shelters in Tulsa arrived, I began to calm down a LOT after getting the shelter installed.

In an attempt to count the worst symptoms of lilapsophobia that I had from May through October I can list that I had one full-blown panic attack and probably 10 limited-symptom attacks during bad weather watches or warnings. Also, I became very frightened but only had a limited-symptom attack one day on the road when I saw and heard a tornado alongside I-44 west while I was traveling. It was going in the opposite direction and I sped up to escape it, and I did. I was happy about this because I found no ditches to hide in!

After admitting I was that frightened of tornadoes, things got easier. I tried to expose myself to more photos, videos and reports of tornadoes at first, but at the end of June, I discovered that I became more frightened. So I tried relaxation, thinking pleasant thoughts during warnings and this actually has helped quite a bit. I finally have reached the point where viewing images and videos of tornadoes is uncomfortable, but is much better than it was.

The Joplin tornado had been very large and scary, and I donít recall ever seeing one that big before. What scared me even more was that the well known storm chaser team from Tulsa, the Piotrowskis, were evidently as frightened of the tornado as many Joplin residents.

Was anyone as frightened as I was of tornadoes after that monster on May 22? I donít know. I assume I may have many compatriots in Joplin, and I hope to gain courage from their spirit.

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