Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=177625
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 10:42:08 PM CST
Gulnaz Saiyed, Katherine LaGrave, Annie Koval/MEDILL
Blizzards beat the punch of a mere snowstorm. High winds, low visibility and lots of snow erupted into one of Chicago's worst blizzards in Windy City history. For the first time since 1999, Chicago Public Schools closed their doors.
More than a Windy City
Dire blizzard forecasts trigger a fear factor.
Jewel-Osco, located at 20 Biesterfield Road in Elk Grove Village, doubled its business on Monday as people loaded their carts with basics as the blizzard approached.
Employees try to create a pathway at the entrance of Jewel- Osco on Wednesday.
Blizzards bring out our worst fears and a herd instinct for stocking up on anything we might need while weathering the storm.
Mary Kennedy of Palatine hit the grocery store on Sunday and Monday after she first heard about the blizzard.
“I have a house full of teenagers – when I heard it was bad, I knew I better have some food for them,” said Kennedy, 46.
Kennedy wasn’t the only one sweeping buns, frozen pizza and soup ingredients into grocery carts in preparation for the “Snowpocalypse.”
Business doubled at the Jewel-Osco in Elk Grove Village, the town that took the biggest punch from the snow, accumulating 22 inches of it.
After Monday, the shelves were getting bare, said store director Paul Brushenko.
“People rushed in to get some essentials, he said. "Some people come in just to buy cigarettes and beer.”
Shopping fever before the storm often comes down to one thing:
“Fear,” said Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University.
Ferrari said fears about not having enough to eat during the storm, and weathering a prolonged stay indoors after the storm, compelled frantic shopping this week.
“When people are stressed like this all they want to do is take some action, like going to the store,” said Ellin Bloch, a professor at the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles.
Research shows that people react differently in big crowds than small groups. It's simple “herd” behavior, Ferrari said.
According to experts, people typically start to become anxious due to the rising levels of anxiety around them that they can’t control. They react with greater sensitivity and less clarity than they would when they are isolated.
One example of when herd behavior is likely to rear its head? Weather-related conditions. Seeing neighbors rush to the store is enough to trigger the herd in us all.
In Valparaiso, Ind., the snow crested at under 10 inches while as much as 25 inches fell on towns nearer the lake such as Highland. But the fear factor of what might be coming hit full gear throughout the area.
John Webster heard from his professor at Valparaiso University Monday that the weather was turning bad, but didn’t think much of it until he went to his local Walmart.
“It was a pretty big nuthouse,” said Webster, 21. “I saw people getting pretty afraid, scared enough to want to stock up on things.”
Webster, a nursing student, said students in the university’s union stocked up on water.
But Webster wasn’t worried. “Even if the forecasters were wrong and we would be stuck for three days, I knew I had enough food,” he said.
“People are going beyond what they should be doing,” said Scott Geller, a professor of psychology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Often, warnings of severe weather result in little more than storms that fail to live up to their expectations. But though a situation might not be as dire as people anticipated, fears about being unprepared are reinforced by seeing other people go through processes---like grocery shopping.
Bloch that said that compared to unexpected natural disasters such as an earthquake, advanced warnings of a blizzard add another element to our fears.
“There is a discomfort of being unable to get out and about. Bringing all these things into the house with you – food, candles, a Bunsen burner, everything – is a metaphor for a blanket,” Bloch said.
The storm of information from weather sites on the Internet, from the media and from social networks contributes to the fear of disaster, according to Geller.
He compared it to the sensationalist coverage of shark attacks: “We were afraid of being attacked by sharks in the ocean when actually the chances are minuscule,” he said.
But when it comes down to it, we mostly have our society to blame, Geller said, citing studies that showed America is becoming a ruder culture.
“It is unfortunate that we are an individualistic society,” he said. “We look out for ourselves because we have no control. We were raised with the mindset that the nice guy finishes last. So when you see people running to the grocery store, you want to get there before someone else.”