A Perfect Storm! Metaphors of Weather

Everyone pays attention to the weather.  It is important to know how hot or cold it will be, calm or stormy, rainy or dry every day before we leave the house so that the weather does not interfere with our jobs or time with family of friends.  This summer, the weather has been in the news a great deal as people across the country experience heat waves, droughts, rainstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes.  Our collective experiences with weather allow us to create conceptual metaphors about weather.  In politics, we can find metaphors about weather to describe how politicians survive adverse conditions in their political careers.


The term weather describes all the types of sun, wind, rain, snow, etc., that we experience on earth.  Metaphorically, the term weather can also be used as a verb indicating one’s ability to tolerate a bad situation.

Example:  George W. Bush had to weather many controversies during his presidency including the 9/11 attack, the first terrorist attack on American soil since the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.


The word climate describes the general weather conditions in a certain geographic area. We may also speak of the climate of a certain situation in terms of danger, difficulty or possible success.

Example:  After the 2008 economic crisis, many Americans faced a climate of high unemployment and high foreclosure rates on homes.

blog - weather - Rain_on_ocean_beachrain money

Rain is a very common weather phenomenon all around the world as water falls from the sky in millions of droplets.  The word rain is also a verb and can be used metaphorically to indicate something that occurs very fast and in great quantities.  When a government distributes a great deal of money to an organization, we may say that is it raining money.

Example:  Critics of U.S. defense spending in the billions of dollars claim that the government should stop raining money on defense contractors when we already have the biggest armies and navies in the world.

rain check

Often when it rains, outdoor activities must be cancelled.  In the early days of baseball, spectators could get a ticket to use another time if the game they had paid for was rained out.  This was called a rain check.  In common terms, any time we decide to do something at a later date, we may say that we are taking a rain check.

Example:  U.S. presidents are often invited to economic and political meetings with other world leaders in other countries.  In some cases, if the president is busy, he or she will have to take a rain check and meet with them some other time.

rain on the parade

A parade is a popular summer activity in many cities and towns for different holidays or special occasions.  However, it is difficult to conduct and enjoy a parade if there is heavy rain.  In a popular expression, a something that happens to disrupt or ruin another activity may be described as raining on the parade.

Example:  Although Hillary Clinton wanted to become the first female president in 2008, Barack Obama rained on her parade and won the Democratic nomination instead.

get wind of

Wind is also another common weather phenomenon.  Although the concept of wind can be used to describe a destructive force in a bad storm, the term wind can also be used metaphorically to indicate something that comes on its own to bring news.  In one expression, learning of new information can be described as getting wind of something. 

Example:  In the early 1970s, Americans slowly got wind of the trouble in the Nixon White House as reports came out about the Watergate scandal.

blog - weather - windfallwindfall

Sometimes in a storm, strong winds break off branches of trees and knock them to the ground.  These downed branches are called a windfall.  In metaphorical terms, a windfall is a great quantity of something that happens unexpectedly.

Example:  Politicians in Washington D.C. often argue about whether or not there should be a windfall profits tax on people and businesses.

swirling rumors

In most cases, wind causes the air currents to swirl around in many different directions.  In some situations, we may also talk about rumors or gossip swirling around a certain person or situation.

Example:  In the 2012 presidential election, there were many rumors swirling around that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden would switch roles of Secretary of State and Vice President if Barack Obama was reelected.

cloudy skies

In contrast to the metaphor of sunny skies indicating a successful or positive situation, a situation described as having cloudy skies would be unsuccessful or in danger of failure.

Example:  There were cloudy skies over Wisconsin in 2012 as the voters there tried but failed to recall Governor Scott Walker.

blog - weather - Mammatus-storm-clouds_San-Antonioblack cloud hanging over

Rain and violent rainstorms often fall from dark or black clouds.  A black cloud hanging over an area usually indicates rain and bad weather is on the way.  Black clouds therefore indicate a bad or dangerous situation.

Example:  In 2011, presidential candidate Rick Perry claimed that the national debt was a black cloud hanging over America.

clouded judgment

One cannot see the sky clearly when there are many clouds.  Similarly, we say that when a person cannot think clearly or make good decisions, he or she is suffering from clouded judgment, usually because of bias towards one opinion or another.

Example:  Some critics of John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for vice president in 2007 claim that his desire to be a maverick clouded his judgment of how to choose the best person for the job.

stormy weather

Rain, wind, or snow may come in the form of storms that can be dangerous or cause property damage.  Therefore, people are wary of stormy weather.  In politics, stormy weather indicates arguments or controversy in a specific situation.

Example:  There is always stormy weather in Congress when controversial bills come up for a vote.


The concept of a wind and rain or snow in a storm is used to describe when a person tries to come up with many ideas at the same time.  This is known as brainstorming.

Example:  In 2010, President Obama met with many corporate leaders in New York to brainstorm on how to get more people back to work.

blog - weather - Storm_over_Miami_Beachperfect storm

In the study of weather, the worst possible storm occurs when different weather patterns come together at the same time resulting in terrific wind speeds and precipitation.  These storms are called perfect storms.  In politics, a perfect storm occurs when different bad situations happen at the same time to produce a disaster.

Example:  Incumbent candidates sometimes lose elections when there is a perfect storm of economic, legislative and administrative problems working against them.

storm back

The concept of a storm is also used to describe the energy in a person in a great effort to do something.  The idea of storming back indicates a person aggressively returns to accomplish a goal left unfinished at a previous time.

Example:  After losing the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, Mitt Romney stormed back and won it in 2012.

storm out

When a person is angry and leaves a meeting with great annoyance, we might say that he or she stormed out of the meeting.

Example:  Reportedly President Obama stormed out of a meeting on debt ceiling negotiations in 2011 frustrated at the lack of progress that was being made to solve the problems.

blog - weather - lightninglightning round

Lightning is a discharge of energy from the clouds to the ground at super fast speeds.  The concept of lightning is used to describe anything that happens very fast.  In game shows, a series of questions that must be answered very quickly is called a lightning round.  In politics, a set of fast questions in a debate may also be called a lightning round.

Example:  Presidential candidates must have quick answers ready for all sorts of controversial issues if they come up in lightning rounds in debates.

distant thunder

Thunder creates loud noises that can be heard from miles away.  Normally when we hear thunder we know that a storm is on its way.  The concept of distant thunder metaphorically indicates that some sort of trouble is on its way.

Example:  The economic collapse of 2007 caught many people by surprise, even though some said they could hear the distant thunder for several years.

Next time: I Didn’t See That Coming!  Metaphors of Time