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Tuesday
Mar262013

Winter Weather Wearing on Moods

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Snowmen are burning and a groundhog is threatened with the death penalty, all because winter won't end.

The desperate acts are cold comfort for the millions of Americans who expected an early spring -- or at least a punctual spring starting March 20.  Yet, winter weather continues to smother parts of the country, and low temperatures are causing tempers to flare.

"People are hungry for spring, that's really what it comes down to," said Dr. Norman Sussman, professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, where temperatures have been hovering around freezing.  "People had expectations, and they figured it would be spring by now.  Instead there's more snow and it's still cold."

It's been more than seven seeks since Punxsutawney Phil failed to see his shadow, signaling an early spring. 

Last Friday, an Ohio prosecutor jokingly indicted the famous weather rodent on one count of fraud, claiming he "did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that spring would come early."  The prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty for the groundhog.

"People are using humor, which is a good defense," said Sussman.  "We are overdue, but we just have to be patient."

While Phil was mulling his indictment, Lake Superior State University students in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., were setting fire to a 14-foot paper snowman -- an annual ritual marking the start of spring that was deferred for two days because of weather.  It was 15 degrees during the snowy ceremony.

"Getting together, making a little fun of it, that's definitely a good idea," said Carolyn Landis, a psychologist at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland.

While weather and mood are often tied in tales of fiction, wherein grey clouds hover above the down-and-out, in reality, the two are harder to link, according to Sussman.

"The effect of weather on mood has really never been proven conclusively," he said, noting that a small proportion of people suffer from seasonal affective disorder in the winter.  But both sunlight and exercise can impact energy and mood.

"When the weather gets nicer, people can engage in activities that make them feel better," Sussman said.

Sunlight and exercise can also impact sleep, which in turn affects mood, according Landis.

"When it's cold out, people stay inside more and that affects your exposure to light, which affects your circadian rhythms and how well you sleep," Landis said, adding that physical activity can also lead to more restful nights.  "But there are things you can do, like get outside for 30 minutes a day, or at least be near direct sunlight through a window."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio