Melissa Kaplan's
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Last updated January 1, 2014


It may be the weather, not just in your head

Melissa Kaplan


Are you in more pain during some types of weather? Brain a little foggier than usual? Is your dog or iguana acting very weird? Believe it or not, it may be the weather.

Biometeorology is the interdisciplinary study of increasing importance as correlations are being drawn between certain types of meteorological conditions and the health of plants, humans, and all other animals. In the words of Paul Beggs, member of the International Society of Biometeorology, biometeorology "concerns the process-response system of energy and matter flows within the biosphere." For more information, please read ISB's What Is Biometeorology?

In Germany, Biomet has been integrated into the weather forecasts that are a part of the daily news on television and radio. There, the broadcasts include information on what health problems may be in store in given regional areas based on what the meteorological conditions are forecasted. Biomet is already in use to a very small degree in the US. Here, weather reports will sometimes give warnings of anticipated high UV indexes, or inversions that will concentrate the smog to the point of causing health problems for those already suffering from respiratory diseases. Biomet is also being included in tourism and recreation planning (see the ISB's Climate, Tourism and Recreation Commission).

Other commissions of interest for those interested in the affects of weather conditions on the health of humans can review the Commission on Climate and Human Health: Urban Impacts and Applications site. Those looking for information on the effects of weather on animals will find the Animal Biometeorology interesting.


International Society of Biometeorology

International Journal of Biometeorology (full text articles available online)

Environmental & Societal Impacts Group (National Center for Atmospheric Research)

Aerobiologica (Journal of the International Society of Aerobiology)

Related Articles/Papers/Topics

Under Pressure, Bruce Dan, MD

Climate Effects on Human Health, Laurence S. Kalkstein and Kathleen M. Valimont

Weather May Trigger Migraines, DGNews

Weather and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia
Those of us with these chronic neuroimmune/endocrinic diseases and tickborne diseases have long marked the fact that some of us feel better (more alert, less pain, increased cognitive function) in the winter, while others are better in the summer. This goes beyond the fact that we all suffer to a varying degree from both heat and cold intolerance, probably related to dysregulation of different aspects of the autonomic nervous system, as even those of us who feel better in the winter are miserable in hot weather, at temperatures that did not bother us before the onset of our illness.

Weather and Animal Behavior
It has long been apparent to me that, even when pets are kept in carefully regulated indoor requirements, they are still picking up environmental cues from the outdoors. I first noticed it when corn snakes and other annual breeders double-clutched: had two breeding seasons and two egg-laying period in certain years. Later, it appeared that male iguana breeding seasons were either prolonged more than expected (given that they are longer the farther north or south the individual is from its area of origin) or that they were going into two distinct seasons, separated by one or more months. With female iguanas, there have been some reports of double-clutching, with the female becoming gravid a second time within the annual 12 month cycle. With both the corns and iguanas, the one common denominator was that the double seasons were occurring in years in which there were two distinct wet seasons interspersed with two distinct dry seasons.

For example: The normal weather pattern is a dry, warm or hot summer and fall, followed by an increasingly wet and cold winter, with a wet and warming spring. Once summer comes, rain is rare, as is late morning fog or overcast. Days tend to be uniformly warm, with consistent nighttime cooling. Heat waves tend to occur only once or twice during the summer and early fall.

The abnormal weather patterns that are associated with the abnormal breeding seasons can be described as follows: Fall and winter are normal, temperature-wise, but the rain is very heavy for a period of time, and then stops, with a dry spell, often accompanied by spring-like warmth, during the winter months. This is followed by another cold/cool rainy period lasting for another several weeks, followed yet again by a dry, spring-like period. There is often one more raining period before spring sets in for real. But instead of a normal spring with more or less gradually increasing temperatures, there is instead a heat wave lasting several days, following by normal temperatures for the time of year. There may then be another heat wave, or a rainy spell, followed again by normal temperatures. This odd pattern of abnormally hot weather, or cool and overcast periods, are interlaced with days or weeks or normal weather. No wonder the animals are confused, with the disappearance of the thermal and day length signals their parietals and endocrine systems have evolved to deal with.

Ask Jack
USA Today

Q: Do changes in barometric pressure affect people? For instance, it sometimes appears to cause headaches in sensitive individuals (like me). I often notice a headache coming on when the weather is changing from a high to low or vice versa, or when it's about to rain. Is this my imagination or what? I would certainly appreciate a reply.

Q: Do weather conditions, such as humidity or barometric pressure, effect body parts causing arthritis or other pain?

A: There seems to be no doubt that changes in barometric pressure and humidity along with other weather factors do affect people, but I've never been able to find much, up-to-date information about this topic. It falls under the general topic of "biometeorology," or the study of weather and climate on living things from plants to people.

Hippocrates, the great Greek physician of around 400 BC, wrote about weather effects on people. Humidity could have a direct effect on the skin, with the skin expanding slightly with rising humidity and contracting when the air becomes drier. This could explain why humidity changes are painful to people with scar tissue, especially people who have had limbs amputated. Air pressure changes and temperature changes affect people with rheumatoid arthritis. It's easy to imagine how pressure changes could cause headaches, but I don't know exactly how.

The only two references I have to the topic are: Weather and Health by H.E. Landsberg, published by Doubleday Anchor in 1969, and Human Biometeorology: An Updated, Selected Bibliography - 1995 published by the U.S. National Climatic Data Center in 1985. I asked David Frenz of Multidata, Inc., an environmental consulting firm that specializes in aerobiology, the scientific discipline which considers relationships between weather, climate and the biology of the atmosphere. Here are his suggestions: "The best text that I've seen is: Tromp, S.W. (1963) Medical Biometeorology: weather, climate and the living organism from Elsevier in Amsterdam. It covers every topic under the sun and provides overwhelmingly exhaustive references (ca. 4400). I only wish a newer edition would come out. There has been a lot of work conducted in the last three decades. Other sources include two journals where much of the biometeorological work is published: International Journal of Biometeorology (Springer-Verlag) and Aerobiologia (Elsevier) And, finally, there is a popular press title that is folksy but reasonably helpful: Rosen, S (1979) Weathering: how the atmosphere conditions your body, your mind, your moods -- and your health, New York: M. Evans and Company.

Under Pressure
Bruce Dan, MD,'s HealthWeek

Whether you're taking a test or writing an essay, sometimes the mental pressure can be pretty intense. But a new study in the International Journal of Biometeorology shows another kind of pressure may play a role in how well you do: atmospheric pressure.

Scientists asked 12 volunteers to perform several mental exercises...from proofreading to memorization, while researchers varied the barometric pressure in the room. Small, controlled changes in pressure made the alert volunteers perform better, and the sleepy subjects perform worse. But, when the researchers varied the pressure randomly, like the conditions during stormy weather, all the subjects experienced concentration lapses.

No one is sure why, but it's thought that such changes in air pressure may cause changes in blood pressure, affecting brain activity.

Whatever the reason, if you miss a deadline or forget your homework, we've just let you in on a medically sound excuse: the barometer made me do it.

New Data Suggests Weather Can Trigger Migraines
DG News, July 22, 2004

STAMFORD, CT -- July 16, 2004 -- Headache, a peer-reviewed journal published on behalf of the American Headache Society, features the most carefully done study on the influence of weather patterns on headache. The study, conducted over a two-year period by Dr. Prince and a number of headache specialists at The New England Center for Headache in Stamford, CT, concluded that 51% of patients with headache were affected by weather, although a higher percentage of patients thought they were. Patients were not always able to accurately pinpoint their trigger. It is known that various trigger factors, like wine, chocolate, caffeine, stress and changes in sleep, can set off a migraine attack in susceptible sufferers.

The study delved into the effects of weather patterns on headache as well as investigating whether or not patients could predict their own sensitivity to weather, and which weather patterns were most significant. The majority of headache sufferers in this study believed that certain weather patterns affected their headaches, while the weather triggers they reported did not correspond to the weather tracked in the analysis. Interestingly, of the migraine sufferers affected by weather, it was clear that they were sensitive to a combination of temperature and humidity changes. The most common factor affecting patients was low temperature and humidity or high temperature and humidity. The second was major changes in the weather over a 1-2 day period and the third was high or low barometer. Several patients were sensitive to more than one factor.

"Identifying trigger factors, such as weather, is important as it can lead to preventive strategies such as trigger avoidance or taking acute care medications very early in the attack or even in advance," states Prince. The study findings demonstrate that there is a relationship between weather and migraine, and provides another piece of information on migraine triggers. Based on the data, patients and their physicians can track weather patterns and personal sensitivity, which may help sufferers prevent the onset of a migraine in many situations.

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