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What Does "Calm Before the Storm" Mean?

There is often actually a period of calm before storm fronts.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 September 2014
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The “calm before the storm” typically refers to a period of relative quiet or relaxation prior to a time of intense activity or uproar. This stage of activity may be seen as a positive, such as the time before a rush of business for a company, or as a negative, such as the wait for the influx of patients at a hospital after a disaster. This phrase is typically used as an analogy between the literal calm that can often be felt prior to the arrival of a powerful meteorological event and a period of quiet before a flurry of events or excitement.

As an idiom, the “calm before the storm” is often used interchangeably with similar phrases that replace the word “calm” with “quiet” or “lull.” Regardless of the exact word choice, however, the meaning is the same. This phrase refers to a period of calm and quiet that a person might experience prior to a time of great activity, though it is not necessarily meant to literally indicate that a storm is approaching. Instead, the “calm before the storm” typically refers to a symbolic calm or storm, such as the time when a parent is relaxing prior to his or her children coming home from school.

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There is also a literal calm before the storm in some instances, which is the basis for this particular idiom. As storms develop and move, especially thunderclouds and large storm fronts, air is typically pulled up into them from below. This warm, moist air is cooled and moves upward through the clouds, leaving a vacuum in its place, which is then filled by warm air coming from the top of the storm front. When this occurs in the direction a storm is heading, it can produce an environment that is calm and quiet, sometimes eerily calm, which is quickly followed by the onset of the storm itself.

There are other, similar idioms often used in place of this idiom, including “after a storm comes a calm.” Rather than referring to the sense of quiet that can precede a period of great activity, this instead indicates that after this period of activity there may be another time of quiet. This later period, however, may be either a positive or negative concept, since it might indicate a time of peace and relaxation or a time of quiet contemplation of the devastation wrought by a powerful storm. The “calm before the storm” itself, however, is typically considered positive, though it may have ominous connotations for the event to come.

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lighth0se33
Post 4

I work in a toy store, and we always dread Black Friday. We have to get to work at midnight, since we will open at 2 in the morning, and while we are getting things ready in the store, we are all aware that this time is the calm before the storm.

I've never seen anything like the crowds on Black Friday. People are so rude to each other, and they literally run each other over getting to the most popular toys. We have fights break out sometimes, and a few people have gotten injured in the past.

It is my least favorite day of the year. Like the eerie quietness before a thunderstorm, those two hours before we open fill me with dread and tension.

wavy58
Post 3

@StarJo – Unlike your sister's husband, my husband holds his anger in for awhile, until he can get outside and kick things around. In my house, we call his quiet periods of anger the calm before the storm.

We all know it is coming. When he gets angry, he won't say a word. He will become stone-faced and sit still for a minute, and then he will go outside, slamming the door behind him.

Once he's out there, he will start kicking any object that won't break his foot on the way to his punching bag, which he has hanging in his tool shed. It's good that he has this outlet, because it keeps him from hurting himself on some harder object.

StarJo
Post 2

My sister's husband has a terrible temper, and she is often afraid to tell him any bad news. He doesn't hit her, but he does throw things around the house, get really red in the face, and yell a lot.

Whenever she has something to tell him that she knows will evoke this response, she waits as long as she can, because she says that she enjoys the calm before the storm. Still, she feels tension during the calm, because she knows that it will inevitably disappear as soon as the truth comes out.

I would hate to have to live with a person so angry. It's true that he is calm most of the time, but just knowing that he will explode like that would make me uneasy.

shell4life
Post 1

I am familiar with the physical feeling of the calm before a real storm. To people who have never experienced it before, it can be very deceptive. It can make you believe that the line of storms has passed, when really, the worst is yet to come.

A line of severe thunderstorms ran through my area one night, and right after a particularly loud one with a downpour, we were placed under a tornado warning. Everything got eerily quiet. We opened the back door, and it was far too silent.

About twenty miles away, a tornado was ripping through homes and killing several people at that exact moment. We didn't hear about it until the next morning, but we had felt in that terrible silence that something wasn't right.

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