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Understanding Weather Effects on Physical and Mental Health

 
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Weather and Health Effects: Barometric Changes

One of the factors that affect some people’s health that is worth looking into is barometric pressure changes. It’s basically how much pressure the air has at any given time. It changes due to weather fronts, climate, wind, and other factors. There is a lot of information available on the net for a more complete explanation of the physics of it. I’ll focus on how it may affect physical and mental health. (And as usual, I’m not using exact terminology, to make it more readable to more people.)

You may have heard people say “I can always tell when it’s about to rain, I hurt!” What they are usually -feeling is the pressure changing. As the pressure outside the body changes, the pressure inside is supposed to change too. Those of us with damaged bodies don’t change smoothly like normal, instead there are areas where the pressure inside is uneven, which hurts. The areas that don’t change as smoothly are where there is damage, scar tissue from a injury is often painfully slow to react to the change. Systemic inflammation, which is a common part of chronic illness, keeps the pressure within the cells of the body a tiny bit high, so every cell has a bit more difficulty changing pressure, which results in non-specific pain through the whole body. My theory on the mental effects of pressure change is inflammation or circulation or scar tissue in the brain are off normal, so it has the same systemic effects, only effects show up in mental processes.

If you look at your local weather report, you’ll see the pressure readings. The pressure drops right before it rains (in general, doesn’t always rain for other reasons) and rises after it rains. The fronts you see on the weather maps, with the High and Low marks are showing the pressure. Look at your local weather map, see where the high and low fronts are, and where it is raining, and where the fronts are moving. I like this site Windy.com for showing where the pressure changes are. There’s an option in the settings for “display on map... Pressure isolines” those show the pressure changes, kind of like a topographical map of the air pressure. There is a local personal weather station on WUnderground.com that shows a graph of the pressure in this area. Look to see if you can find someplace showing yours,  it’s helpful to see a graph so you can see the changes easily. Further down I’ll explain how to find one by you.

So what does this mean to a person who has health issues? As the barometer changes, pain tends to change. As the barometer rises, most people feel less pain. A visual for what happens in the body: the bursa in the joints are fluid filled bags that pad the joint, kind of like a balloon. As the pressure outside falls, the bursa swells to match it, effect is like a balloon getting bigger, so the joint can’t move as well and that hurts. As the pressure goes back up, it shrinks back down, hurting less. Multiply that effect by how many things in your body are not responding correctly to pressure changes, and you will know how bad you may be affected by this. There are other reactions also, I'm only giving one common one as an example.

Someone like me, who has deep tissue scarring due to car wreck damage as well as an autoimmune disease hurts really bad when the pressure changes, and it’s worth it to me to watch the weather, so I can schedule my work around my pain. Days I hurt bad I am on the computer, days I don't hurt, I do physical work. Knowing what I may be up for doing that day is useful information for me. One of the factors I looked at when I moved from New Mexico to Missouri was what the weather does. The chart below is barometric pressure data. Pretty close to the same pattern in each state if you look at the year long chart. Looking at just one week, though, there is MUCH less variability in Missouri, smoother curves. And yes, less day to day pain for me.


Mental effects are more subjective than pain. In me, when the barometer rises, I get agitated, and depending on how well I’m coping with other factors, I either get panicky and paranoid, or I channel it into my work, use that energy to get stuff done. So days it falls, I physically hurt and do more mental work, days it rises, I’m ansty and agitated and do more physical work. This is useful for me to know, because it helps me figure out whether things like panic is a real issue and worth acting on, or just the weather changing and can be safely ignored. It makes me calmer to have it less a mystery.

What can you do to affect this process? Since the pain from the falling barometer is an effect of swelling and inflammation, anything that reduces swelling or inflammation may help. An anti-inflammatory of your choice is more effective at pain relief than a general pain killer. I learned about this stuff after I had quit taking medical pain killers, but it did explain why some of them (that had a Tylenol base, which is an anti-inflammatory) worked better on my pain than others that were just opiates with no inflammatory action. Ice on afflicted areas helps a lot of people, as it takes down swelling.

So look up your local weather, watch it, log the weather and your health if you need to, see if it’s a problem. If it is, look up how to lower inflammation. It might help quite a lot to know what is flaring you on any given day. It’s a great tool for debugging your health issues.

The barometric readings are all so close to each other that it shows a .01 change at a time, I don't know what anyone else calls that change. So in MY words, when the barometer reading goes from 30.12  to  30.14, I call that a "2 point rise." I usually don't pay attention to less than 3 (although I can feel them) but at 3-5 points up or down, I'm noticing it but it's not too bad. 10 points is definitely slamming me around, when it does 15 points, I'm in pretty bad pain. More than that, I'm probably not coping well at all.  So 15 points of rise and fall off my example of 30.12 would be 30.27 or 29.97. Days like that hurt. The speed of the rise or fall is part of it too. 15 points over 2 days isn't too bad. 15 points in 3 hours is. There was a time last winter when a storm system that came through dropped the barometer 60 points in 4 days. And then it went back up over 6 days. That was not fun.

Windy.com is interesting in that you can see things like how far the pressure affects out from things like hurricanes. Way more than you would think. One of my weird theories is that the pressure change (and other weather effects that I haven't written about yet) affects average people mentally, makes them either more lethargic or more anxious. Which explains some of what you see on the news when there are storms. This could have a very good evolutionary basis, someone who is predisposed to hunker down and go lethargic when storms hit survives, as do the people who get antsy and do things to protect themselves. The ones who don't survive to pass on their genes are the ones who go about their daily business, and get slammed by it. (Pearl's Weird Theory of the Day!(TM) )  People like me, who definitely feel it, I think it's a survival trait, I AM a good weather predictor, in a peasant society (which is my genetics, sturdy peasant stock) that is an asset.

How can you use this as an asset as a Permaculture type person? If you pay attention and learn what it all feels like to you, you will know things like "put the goats in the barn now, before I hurt too much to do it, as a storm is coming soon, and I'll be in pain in about 30 minutes and won't want to do it then." or "pick that herb now, as the pressure is going up, so next few days are going to be dry, and the weather will be good for it drying on the racks."  Learn to listen to your body, and make a it useful thing, instead of just pain, and you are ahead of the game :)

Using it to debug your health is great too. So say you have a bad pain in your hip, if you look at the barometer and it's falling, you can say "ok, it's probably just that again" instead of "I have to go to the doctor and get tests and pills because I have no idea what is going on!" Which does NOT mean don't get things diagnosed! Find out what can be found out, so you aren't doing something like walking on a broken foot. It means you don't have to overreact to the pain every time, you know what is making the pain level change, and that it will change back. If it does not, THEN go back to the doctor. It gives you another tool in your first aid kit "I can safely ignore this, it's just the weather, just a transient symptom."  And if you have complex pain, instead of knowing nothing other than "I hurt all the time!" you can start figuring out things like "when the barometer falls, I hurt more here, here and here, and when it is steady I only hurt there and there." You now know more about what to watch for as far as changes in your overall health, and you know that if you feel you have to do something about those pains the weather affects, an anti-inflammatory of some sort will help most. You have a new tool for pain control!
 
Pearl Sutton
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Weather and Health Effects: Fronts crossing the area

When a front crosses the area, I and others often react to it with pain or health issues. As I write this, it’s currently 5:00 AM on 9/21/18, I woke up in pain at 3:10, gave up and got out of bed at 4:00. I figured I would do so, knew the front was coming. I notice that my neighbors on each side here are both awake too. They are both in wheelchairs and can’t get out, which is the only reason we don't do “up all night from weather poker parties” since all three of us react about the same.

Why would it possibly be useful to know about this? What are we feeling, and how can you tell if you react to it too? Can this be used as an asset in your life? What exactly do I mean by “a front crossing the area?” How do you tell it’s coming?

It’s useful to know if this may be a factor in your health, because it gives you information to debug complex health problems. If your hip hurts sometimes, and you are trying to figure out why, knowing if it hurts worse when the weather is affecting it is a great data point to have. It makes random pain a little less random, a little less scary, and easier to schedule around. I knew this front was coming, I went to bed earlier than usual last night, knowing I’d be up earlier. I also have projects I’m working on ready to go for today, made sure yesterday I had all the things I need to do them, because I doubt I’ll be up for going out anyplace today. I have other health factors going on that are going to make this more painful than it normally would be that I’m taking into account too.

At 3:10 AM today I woke up with my normal baseline pain elevated. I felt it most in my back, knees and neck, which made me hurt to lay in bed, so I got up at 4. All of my usual inflammation is hurting, and due to chronic sinus damage, it’s increasing sinus drainage, which is impeding my breathing, resulting in low oxygen level effects making my adrenals react in panic. So I’m agitated, I can't breathe, I hurt all over, the excess drainage is upsetting my stomach (as are the meds I took this morning) and my knee pain makes walking difficult. That’s me, this morning. Anyone else, it would affect any areas that are inflamed, depending on your health issues. Any area that has been injured or has scar tissue often hurts. Lyme and similar illnesses often have systemic inflammation (through the whole body) so it would be quite likely to hurt all over, or have a flare up of your usual symptoms.

I saw this front coming a few days ahead, I started increasing my anti-inflammatory vitamins and herbs, (turmeric, ginger) increased my anti-infection stuff, (liposomal Vit C, D3, Vit A, olive leaf, garlic) increased my water intake (helps flush out lactic acid, which complicates joint pain) and made sure I had what I needed to do the work I plan to do today, and went to bed early. It won’t be too bad. If I didn’t have the complications that are currently going on, I probably wouldn’t have expected to react this bad for a small front, this is what I usually do for a major storm system. The complications are going to increase all of the reactions though, and I have work I want to do.

Being aware of this makes it less random to go to bed and wake up in pain, panic, and stomach upset. If I didn’t know it was just that front walking over, I’d wonder if I had food poisoning or had caught something from someone yesterday while I was out. It gives me a way to understand the random feeling fluctuations. Since I know how to watch the weather, I choose my reaction, not letting that low oxygen panic cause hysteria because my body is apparently randomly crashing. It’s not random. It’s predictable, and I can choose my reaction to it. That’s an amazing power to have!  

As a permaculture type, if you are sensitive to this it can be used to help you predict weather changes. On the examples coming up, you’ll see a 20+ degree temperature drop. If you have no way to check the weather, it’s late fall, and you suddenly feel a front coming in, you know to check that your plants and animals are ready for the temperature drop that’s coming. Some people watch the sky (I do that too) but I have a very accurate weather prediction center in my body! Pay attention, learn what it means to you when the weather changes, and you have a new tool in your toolkit!

This is what I watch, and why, and links I use:

I was planning to write about this, when I saw a nice basic front coming through I started taking notes so it would be easy to explain. This is not a bad one, it’s just a nice clear one that happened at the right time to be a good example.

A front is the big red or blue lines you see on the weather maps, often with rain along it. It’s where one air mass is pushing against another, with pressure,  temperature changes, and those changes make humidity condense into rain. Usually there’s a cloud bank right along the edge of the front, often rain, and other storm results. The wind of the air mass moving often results in tornadoes and other wind events. It also changes the barometric pressure. A lot (but not all) of the effects of a front are due to the barometric pressure changes.



When you look at your weather forecast and it goes from sunny and warm to rainy and cool like this, there’s often a front coming in. I saw that on the forecast Thursday morning and loaded a map.




Yep, there it is, that may be coming down toward me in Missouri.

A site I like a lot is Windy.com  It animates the predicted winds and pressures (probably does more, that’s all I usually look at there) so I watched what they said it was going to do.


You can see the pressure moving in a lump, the main effect moving northeast across the country. Where I am, I won’t get the main lump, I’ll get the southern edge as it goes past.
I also looked at the hourly forecast at weather.gov


I can see that the wind is going to change speed and direction starting somewhere around 2 AM, that tells me the leading edge of the front will be starting to hit then, also gives me a good guess of when I’ll wake up! I wish they put barometric pressure on that graph.

The leading edge is the part that crosses over first. If you think of a front as a wave of air just like a wave of water, the leading edge is where the water is starting to rise in the front, before the rest of it comes. I marked it on this picture.


Water and air waves are the same physics, just in different places, the part of the wave that you see in this picture starting to crash over the top would be the storm line if it was an air front. Where the air is stirred up, just like that water crashing around, the air crashes around, causing rain. At 4 AM the leading edge of this was in the Kansas City area.


By 7AM the edge has passed the red line of Interstate 40 moving southeast, and is making the heavy rain areas that are red and orange. The rain line southeast of Kansas City is the basic rain that follows the leading edge. The temperature will be dropping soon behind it, since it’s that kind of weather pattern. Since it’s 7AM here, that means it just wont warm up today. Yesterday was 92 degrees plus 70% humidity, tonight will be in the mid 50s. It’s a cold front passing over us, bringing rain squalls. If you hear the weatherman say that, this is what he means. Now you know what it means to your health!


The leading edge is where the pressure starts changing, and where I start hurting or getting sick. Depending on how your body reacts to pressure changes, at this point it may be an hour or two, or a day or more, before the pain recedes. The post Barometric Pressure and Health Effects explains this in more detail.

If you didn’t see it coming, and are wondering if what made you hurt was possibly the weather, this is what a graph of a quick front looked like. A bigger front the effect would have lasted longer, this one was a good example so you know what you may be looking for. This not the one from today.


From the top:
First section is temperatures. Red line is the temperature, it stayed steady. The green one with it is the dew point, not important to this discussion.

Next section is the wind, blue is wind speed, orange wind gusts. See how there was almost no wind, then all of a sudden quite a lot, that’s often a front. The leading edge on this one was really sharp. It’s not always quite that abrupt.

Next section is wind direction. It changed from “kind of from the northish” to “definitely from the north.” And went back to less focused when the wind speed went down.

The next section is barometric pressure, the black line drops at the same time the wind speed comes up. That’s a definite front. On the barometric pressure thread I talk of how I judge the pressure drop. I would call that 7 points down, over about 5 hours, probably not going to be painful to me.

The next two sections are solar radiation (orange line) and UV index (purple line.) They show how bright the sun was, the deep dips are clouds going past, so what you are seeing there is the clouds that came in with this front. This one didn’t rain, it just blew across, bringing some clouds with it that left with it too.

That chart came off of a personal weather station that someone is running about 4 miles south of me. If you want to find if there’s one in your area, go to WUnderground https://www.wunderground.com/ put in your location, find one close to you. The Change option will show them. The view is generally the forecast, the good charts are in the dashboard view. Look at the URL for the page you are on, see the bit at the end with letters and numbers? The K or W means it’s a broadcasting station, the next 2 letters are the state, the next is the town, then number of the station. The one I’m looking at is one near where I used to live: These didn't want to be links, but I can't make them not be. Don't click, read what's here. You CAN click, if you care what's happening in New Mexico, but it's not relevant :)
https://www.wunderground.com/weather/us/nm/las-cruces/KNMLASCR97   KNMLASCR97 being the number we are looking for. Copy the number and change the URL to https://www.wunderground.com/personal-weather-station/dashboard?ID=KNMLASCR97  (with your own number in it) and you’ll get to the graph view. Bookmark it, so you don’t have to mess with that again. I hate their forecast view, but their graph view is the best I have found.

That graph view is the one I look at the most, I have it on my phone too, I can see the patterns of what the weather is doing. A number like 30.02 pressure doesn’t tell me much, where seeing it is going up or down tells me a lot.

I have one section in my browser bookmarks I labeled Weather Tabs. I tell it to Open All In Tabs, and flip through them quickly. It’s not a lot of effort for me to get a pretty accurate snapshot of the current weather, and guess of where it’s going. My weather tabs are:
Weather.gov
  • Weather.gov local radar
  • Weather.gov local forecast
  • Weather.gov local hourly forecast

  • WUnderground
  • The closest WUnderground local personal station set to dashboard view



  • The others I keep easy to reach, but don’t have on the tabs to open all the time are:
  • Other WUnderground local personal stations, set to dashboard view

  • https://www.wunderground.com/maps/current-weather/mixed-surface-analysis
  • surface analysis

  • Windy.com
  • Windy.com I keep the barometric pressure lines showing on it, as well as wind



  • What have you noticed happens when the weather changes? What have you learned to watch for in the weather report? I’d love to hear other people’s experiences! I have learned this mostly on my own, and always want to know more. I’m an information vacuum! :)
     
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    A couple of front related points that may be useful ...

    There are several types of fronts. Fast moving cold fronts, slow moving cold fronts, warm fronts, stationary fronts, occluded fronts, & the nastiest of them all is the frontal cyclone. Also known as an extratropical cyclone or a frontal low.

    Fast moving cold fronts are pushed along by intense high pressure systems well beyond the front. Friction slows the surface movement which causes a huge & very steep wave effect. Because the temperatures & pressures are vastly different between the 2 locations it is a very strong phenomenon.

    Slow moving cold fronts basically mean that many clouds will form behind the frontal boundary.

    Warm fronts occur when warm air moves over colder air at the surface. They are generally slower than cold fronts. The pressure & humidity determine what types of clouds will form.

    Stationary fronts occur when a cold front meets a warm front but the strength of each is equal. They can linger for days.

    Occluded fronts occur when a front of one type (hot or cold) catches up & passes the other type. The main result is lots of clouds/fog/rain for a while & gradually changing temps & pressures.

    Frontal cyclones occur due to the differences in solar energy received at the equator & the earth's poles. A temperature gradient occurs & is concentrated along the polar front. If that temp gradient becomes large enough a disturbance (the cyclone) equalizes the pressure. This one will be all over the local news for sure:)

    In reference to the one pic that shows 5 or 6 different charts. In particular the wind related one. Those L shaped symbols that indicate direction also indicate strength. A short bar equals 5 knots. Long bars equal 10 knots. A triangular pennant shape equals 50 knots. So, if there is 2 long & one short bars it equals 25 knots wind speed. The orientation of the main bar indicates direction the wind is coming FROM. If there is a pennant it's time to go windsurfing!!!
     
    Pearl Sutton
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    What I feel during each of those types of fronts, just for comparison to what anyone else feels, if you know what I feel, maybe you can figure out if you feel the same or different.

    Mike Barkley wrote:...

    Fast moving cold fronts are pushed along by intense high pressure systems well beyond the front. Friction slows the surface movement which causes a huge & very steep wave effect. Because the temperatures & pressures are vastly different between the 2 locations it is a very strong phenomenon.


    Those hurt BAD. Pain slamming in and flooring me. Those are the worst.

    Slow moving cold fronts basically mean that many clouds will form behind the frontal boundary.

    Those are less intense pain, but drag out for a while, several days or more.

    Warm fronts occur when warm air moves over colder air at the surface. They are generally slower than cold fronts. The pressure & humidity determine what types of clouds will form.

     Those to me are almost always non-specific pain, whole body just feels horrible.

    Stationary fronts occur when a cold front meets a warm front but the strength of each is equal. They can linger for days.

    Another drags out the pain one for me. Usually not horrifying pain, but just won't let up.

    Occluded fronts occur when a front of one type (hot or cold) catches up & passes the other type. The main result is lots of clouds/fog/rain for a while & gradually changing temps & pressures.

    Those I call shifting fronts, hard to explain what happens, one type of pain, then it shifts to another. Like from specific pains to non-specific.

    Frontal cyclones occur due to the differences in solar energy received at the equator & the earth's poles. A temperature gradient occurs & is concentrated along the polar front. If that temp gradient becomes large enough a disturbance (the cyclone) equalizes the pressure. This one will be all over the local news for sure:)

    Haven't felt those. Not looking forward to it :D

    In reference to the one pic that shows 5 or 6 different charts. In particular the wind related one. Those L shaped symbols that indicate direction also indicate strength. A short bar equals 5 knots. Long bars equal 10 knots. A triangular pennant shape equals 50 knots. So, if there is 2 long & one short bars it equals 25 knots wind speed. The orientation of the main bar indicates direction the wind is coming FROM. If there is a pennant it's time to go windsurfing!!!

    Or get the goats in the barn before they blow away!

    Thanks for good info Mike! Adds to our knowledge, makes it easier to figure out why we hurt today... Weather forecasts and reporting are in weird historical language (knots of wind speed, millibars of mercury, etc) and it keeps enough people from understanding it that the big weather sites go for the lame forecasts like "hotter than yesterday" because it's understandable to people who haven't studied it. This is why I use the sites I do for weather, they give me data I need to see in a format that makes sense to me. I'd be amused to see a site start offering pain weather, the stuff  I need, all in one place. Probably more market for that than people realize.
     
    Pearl Sutton
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    If you are in the Midwest, this week (late Nov, 2019) the storm system that rolled through slammed the barometer in my area up 107 points in under 36 hours. If you noticed the day before Thanksgiving, and probably Thanksgiving day also, were excessively painful or mood issues, you are probably barometric sensitive too. Which can't be improving the holiday for a lot of families....


     
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    Thank you, Pearl, for starting this thread & sharing your experience!

    Pearl Sutton wrote:Mental effects are more subjective than pain. In me, when the barometer rises, I get agitated, and depending on how well I’m coping with other factors, I either get panicky and paranoid, or I channel it into my work, use that energy to get stuff done.



    This is the part that impacts me the most. I also have an autoimmune disease, which has caused me to need multiple, major surgeries since 2013. The physical effects you described are the same for me, especially in fall & spring when the weather/pressure fluctuates a lot more than the other seasons.
    This typically results in a rush of anxiety/panic & depression, as fall/spring are the perfect seasons to tackle big projects outdoors due to the outside temps.
    In summer the 100+° temps make it impossible to work outside most of the day, so I typically say "I'll tackle that in fall when it's cooler." In winter the cold temps mess up my hand/finger joints and the winds make me put things off until spring.
    Unfortunately, it seems to work out where the pressure is so variable during those seasons that I end up hurting, causing me to be so slow with chores and not having enough time to do extra stuff due to the short days. This results in a constant state of panic; feeling overwhelmed with the huge to-do list (which causes my ADHD and OCD to be worse than usual). Then, before I know it, the "ideal" seasons are over and I'm back to the seasons I feel well enough to jump into things and am unable to due to the extreme weather.
    Like you, I tend to jump into mental tasks when I'm physically unable to do something. This eases the emotional tension since it allows me to still feel like I'm doing something productive instead of just wasting valuable time. Reading, researching, and planning seems to be the most effective way to deal with emotional/mental challenges.
    I'm trying to do better with tracking the forecast and planning to do certain things on the days where I anticipate everything lining up when I feel good and the conditions are right for outside projects.
     
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    I keep the barometric pressure lines showing on it, as well as wind



    The pressure lines are called isobars. The closer together they are the windier it will be.
     
    Pearl Sutton
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    Kc: I run into the same bit about "not right now" but then when it can be done, I can't do it...

    Kc Simmons wrote:  especially in fall & spring when the weather/pressure fluctuates a lot more than the other seasons.
    This typically results in a rush of anxiety/panic & depression, as fall/spring are the perfect seasons to tackle big projects outdoors due to the outside temps.  


    That problem led partially to a bipolar diagnosis that turned out to be very wrong. I'd be energetic, push as hard as I could to get stuff done when the weather was right, then as it shifted, get more panicky and upset that it wasn't all done, and crash into overworked exhaustion, and depression because I hadn't gotten it done. Always the same times of year, fall and spring. They said bipolar, turns out to be weather sensitive and trying to cope with too many things in  the small window of opportunity I had.
     
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    Loosely related perhaps, I get nasty headaches and a foggy, lethargic feeling when there are abrupt changes in pressure.  I did some research a couple of years ago and VT is one of the worst states to live in for if you're affected by these types of weather patterns.

    Anyway, thanks for the information on this topic.
     
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