Tornado support group, local woman speak on weather-related PTSD, anxiety

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – As we near the anniversary of the tornadoes that tore through south central Kentucky, some residents of Bowling Green and Warren County might have been on edge Wednesday as the county outdoor warning sirens accidentally sounded.

Even now, almost a year later, many struggle with this time of year.

One woman says the tornado sirens from Wednesday night brought back a flood of emotions.

“People don’t understand that,” she said. “Others here in the county are like ‘Oh, no big deal, you know, sirens went off.’ For me, it is a big deal.”

Bobbie Villalba, like many in our community, has PTSD and high anxiety associated with the night. Memories of the December tornadoes came back when the county outdoor warning system accidentally went off due to a technical error.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have real vivid associations from that night with those sires in particular, and, you know, heard a lot of people telling their story about that night and the sirens is that recurring thing,” said Tyler Heckman, program manager for Project Recovery. “Definitely, I know people that if they hear them go off is gonna bring right back that moment and right back that panic.”

Heckman, who organizes Project Recovery, says that many people in the tornado support group tend to have weather-related triggers.

“They see dark clouds roll in, especially in the summer when that’s pretty normal stuff,” Heckman said. “All of a sudden, it doesn’t feel normal anymore. Just sounds like wind blowing. I know one individual who, rain and thunder wasn’t that bad, but they heard wind blowing through like a doorway and that brought a real strong reaction to the wind blowing through the house after everything happened.”

As we near the anniversary of the tornadoes, just the literal feeling outside can be unsettling to those who have struggled over the past year with the disaster.

“It’s a beautiful day, and I know there’s people that can’t enjoy it because that unseasonably warm weather is setting them off, and that’s unfortunate,” Heckman said.

Villalba added, “Even now with the warmness, it’s got me on caution right now. It’s like people are enjoying the 60 degree weather. I’m in my own mind, thinking ‘Please, just, like this is 60 degree weather. Are we gonna get rain soon or are we gonna get storms soon?’ It’s a constant battle in your head.”