Words at Play

8 Words for Storms the Weather Report Didn't Mention

Not all storms are caused by weather.
Last Updated: 19 Mar 2022


Definition 1 : to tour through rural districts staging usually theatrical performances 2 : to travel from place to place making brief stops (as in a political campaign or a promotional tour) 3 : to pilot one's airplane in sightseeing flights with passengers or in exhibition stunts in an unscheduled course especially in rural districts 4 : to travel across (an area) while barnstorming

Over the century and a half or so that barnstorm has been in use, the term has been employed to talk about theatrical performances that tour through rural districts, to promotional multi-stop trips by authors, politicians, and the like, and to performances in which pilots do stunts to show off their flying skills. Not all of these happen in rural areas, but they are often associated with the land of barns and fields. The storm part of barnstorm, though, is less idyllic. It's the same storm used to talk about troops storming a fort: an attack with a bold, swift frontal movement intended to defeat or win over quickly.


Definition 1 : a very intense and destructive fire usually accompanied by high winds; especially : one that is started by attack with nuclear or incendiary weapons and that creates a powerful updraft which causes very strong inrushing winds to develop in the surrounding area 2 a : a sudden or violent outburst b : a raging controversy

Literal firestorms are intense and destructive fires which sometimes involve tornado-like whirls of flame that develop as hot air rises from burning fuel. The figurative ones are outbursts or controversies that are reminiscent of the literal ones in being sudden and turbulent. But neither the literal nor the figurative firestorms have the ability to manipulate the atomic structures of things the way that DC Comics' superhero Firestorm can.

perfect storm

Definition : a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors

When it's the weather in question, most of us attach the word perfect to words like day or weekend. Meteorologists, though, attach it to storm. In meteorological terms, a perfect storm is one that is perfectly terrible in its featuring a remarkable concurrence of terrible meteorological factors—like the 1991 storm off the eastern Atlantic seaboard that inspired the book The Perfect Storm and the movie of the same title.

In common parlance, a perfect storm is any critical or disastrous situation created by similarly powerful factors combining to be especially impressive.


Definition : a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group; also : the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem

Before brainstorming was something you did to solve problems, a brainstorm was a serious problem. In the mid-19th century the noun brainstorm referred to a violent transient fit of insanity. It wasn't until the middle of the 20th century that brainstorming as we know it settled into the lexicon, entering by way of business jargon.

storm trooper

Definition 1 : a member of a private Nazi army notorious for aggressiveness, violence, and brutality 2 : one that resembles a Nazi storm trooper

Long before Princess Leia suggested that Luke Skywalker was a little short for a Stormtrooper, the word storm trooper referred to a member of a private and notoriously brutal Nazi army. The word is older even than that, though. It was used as far back as the end of World War I to refer to other certain German troops.

storm in a teacup

Definition : a great commotion over an unimportant matter

Its more common iteration has pleasing alliteration in its favor: tempest in a teapot. But storm in a teacup paints the picture just as well. Teacups are, of course, quite small, and teapots, though somewhat larger, are good at containing their contents. A storm, or tempest, in either one is not going to amount to much.

storm and stress

Definition : turmoil

The phrase storm and stress is a direct translation of the German Sturm und Drang, which is also used in English in all its German splendor. Both are currently most often used to mean "turmoil," but both can also refer to a late 18th century German literary movement whose works exalt nature, intuition, impulse, instinct, emotion, fancy, and inborn genius as the wellsprings of literature. The works of Sturm und Drang often employ rousing action and high emotionalism in exploring an individual's revolt against society.


Definition : a crisis or sudden increase in the symptoms of a disease

The term storm itself isn't limited in use to weather. In addition to senses covering disturbed or agitated states and tumultuous outbursts (among others) storm has a medical sense referring to a crisis or sudden increase in the symptoms of a disease. One particular kind of medical storm is the thyroid storm, which is a sudden life-threatening worsening of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism brought on by causes such as infection, surgery, or stress.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!