Psyching the Zietgeist:
Current Culture Through a Mental Health Lens

Can Weather Bring Us Together? How Chats About the Weather May Be Emotionally Regulating

It happens every year in Seattle. The big yellow orb in the sky crawls out from its 10-month sabbatical and shines brilliantly on all below. People who normally wouldn’t even look at each other as they pass on the street not only glance up, but…smile! Almost every conversation on those days starts with, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” Every year I look forward to this phenomenon, and also am so curious about it. What is it about weather that it changes our moods so broadly?

This doesn’t seem to happen with just the sun. This past year Seattle experienced what was appropriately described as “Snowmeggedon”. The entire area fell mercy to a blanket of snow that disrupted every normal daily rhythm. During that experience I also noticed that weather was the topic of conversation everywhere I went. It was as if it was the only thing going on in our immediate area, and our immediate weather experience seemed to temporarily be our exclusive experience of the world.  I noticed my own mind felt snowed in. I was constantly checking the weather reports and checking in with local friends.

It turns out that extreme weather carries its own psychological experience that is rooted in community. In the article The Psychology of Extreme Weather, Dr. Alan Stewart, who studies the psychology of weather and climate at the University of Georgia, observes that talking to each other helps us process our concerns and feelings about the weather we are experiencing. He maintains that sharing our common experience of the weather results in a coping mechanism. What is so powerful about local weather is that it connects you with people who are used to the same external weather situation you are. This puts some interesting context to how we experience our local weather. For us in Seattle, snow (and sunshine for that matter) is more rare, so when it appears we are navigating it in the context of our local geographical land. When another person can relate to, and understand our experience, we often feel more emotionally calm and known.

So next time you talk about the weather locally, you may simultaneously be regulating part of your emotional experience as well as being savvy on the latest forecast – how’s that for small talk?

by Janelle Chandler