"There was a desert wind blowing.... It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight." Raymond Chandler's 1938 short story "Red Wind" captures the infamous "devil winds" of Los Angeles that at times seem to drive people a little nuts. But if you think that's just a lot of hot air, think again. "Human responses to the Santa Anas, and the föhn winds of Europe as well, have been shown to be generally unfavorable—for example, people tend to become irritable," says biometeorologist Dennis Driscoll, PhD, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University. "We don't know why. It may have something to do with the electrical charges and an increase in positive ions. At least, that's the theory." What else can the weather do to your mood? Here's a forecast: Cold Snap: Lawrence Palinkas, PhD, professor of social policy and health at the University of Southern California, has studied the impact of extremely cold temperatures on Antarctic researchers. "We've noticed an increase in anger and irritability after prolonged exposure," he says, although he believes isolation and confinement play a part. "In addition, thyroid hormones are particularly susceptible to changes in temperature. People sometimes exhibit subclinical hypothyroidism, displaying symptoms of depression, short-term memory loss, and anxiety." Some Antarctic researchers take supplements of tyrosine, which has been shown to help alleviate cold-stress-induced memory impairment, at least in rats.
And last year, some Canadian newspapers started using the term snow rage. "At the end of March 2008, we'd had over 16 feet of snow," says Catherine Viel, spokesperson for the Québec City Police. "During that month, we had several incidents—911 calls, a guy punching a neighbor in the face over a few shovelfuls of snow, a man who threatened his neighbor with a 12-gauge shotgun because someone had blown snow onto his lawn."
To preserve your sanity, experts advise going on a winter vacation to somewhere warm.
Hot-headed: Heat waves really can make tempers boil. In fact, from 1950 to 1995, rates of serious and deadly assaults were higher during hotter years, according to research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1997. The authors suggest that uncomfortably high temperatures increase annoyance-provoked crimes, in which the primary goal is to hurt someone. (Crimes like burglary, where the incentive is money, did not increase.) They predicted at least 115,000 additional serious and fatal assaults a year in the United States due to global warming.
Spring Fever: "We studied about 600 people and found that in springtime, sunny days and warm weather seem to boost mood and have a broadening effect on cognition, basically opening the mind to new ideas," says Matthew Keller, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "You just have to get outside."