What do People Mean When They Talk About a "Perfect Storm"?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
The multiple hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast of the US in 2005 are often considered a "perfect storm.".
The multiple hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast of the US in 2005 are often considered a "perfect storm.".

The term "a perfect storm" is used to describe a serendipitous confluence of events which results in something astounding and often catastrophic. Considered on their own, each of the events is not terribly remarkable, but when the events are combined, the results can be formidable. The term is used both literally, to refer to ongoing events, and hypothetically, to talk about potential disaster scenarios.

Perfect storms are usually catastrophic.
Perfect storms are usually catastrophic.

Use of this term is not restricted to the field of meteorology, although the term has its origins in meteorological phenomena. Many people in the field of politics, for example, refer to a perfect storm of events which causes an unexpected or shocking result, as do economists. The catastrophic flailings of the American markets in 2008, for example, were sometimes said to be caused by a perfect storm of events which united to create chaos.

The term "the perfect storm" has its origins in meteorology, but the cliche can apply to many situations in which a confluence of events occur and create a surprise or catastrophic result.
The term "the perfect storm" has its origins in meteorology, but the cliche can apply to many situations in which a confluence of events occur and create a surprise or catastrophic result.

Credit for the term is usually given to Sebastian Junger, who wrote a book called The Perfect Storm in 1991. The book was about a catastrophic 1991 storm which caused significant amounts of damage across the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, and it was even made into a film. Junger, however, points out that he borrowed the term from officials at the National Weather Service, who referred to the events which led to the 1991 Halloween Nor'Easter as "perfect" to create a devastating storm.

In disaster scenarios, officials try to consider the conditions which could lead to a perfect storm, so that they can anticipate such events and theoretically cope with them. The infamous 2005 hurricane season in the Atlantic is often used as an illustration of a perfect storm, as much of the Southern United States was battered by a series of devastating hurricanes, in a series of events which no one had predicted. While just one hurricane's damage was manageable, the combined effects of Emily, Dennis, Rita, Katrina, and Wilma proved to be too much for many Southern States.

People may also use the term when looking back on historical events. It is often easier to construct a perfect storm after the fact than to predict one, as historians can take advantage of the fact that they have the big picture to look at. A perfect storm of events can lead to everything from the collapse of a government to the failure of an economic market, sometimes alarmingly quickly.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Sunny27

Cupcake15-Although no one could have predicted the catastrophic events the followed, the lack of preparation found in the local and state governments proved to have devastating consequences.

Even the federal government did not offer aid fast enough and about 1,464 people died as a result. The aftermath of this storm led to increased crime and looting and many communities are still virtually empty five years after the storm.

In addition, most residents of New Orleans did not have flood insurance and many of these homes had to be condemned because of the flood damage and toxic mold that ensued. IAlso, homeowner’s insurance rates rose tenfold in many areas and some companies left the state completely leaving those without coverage to seek the most expensive insurance available.

As a result, many people living in a home valued at $100,000 had to pay close to $10,000 in insurance premiums to remain covered.

cupcake15

Mutsy-I remember that storm it was really sad. My brother in law worked in a prison in Florida City and the entire prison was gone. Imagine not being able to go to work because your place of employment disappeared?

I think the term Perfect Storm could also be referred to the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Since this city is built below sea level it makes it vulnerable to storms like hurricanes. New Orleans did not take a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina; in fact many believed that New Orleans was spared.

However, the levees started to break and flood the city which eventually flooded 80% of the city and left many begging on their rooftops to be rescued.

In addition, the city had no orderly emergency evacuation. In fact there were many school buses that were left unattended and could have been used to evacuate the citizens of New Orleans when the hurricane watch was issued.

It was not until the eve of the storm when the hurricane warning was in effect that Mayor Ray Nagin told residents to evacuate.

mutsy

Cafe41-I remember, in 1992 South Florida was hit with a category 5 hurricane that left over 250,000 homeless and over 100,000 people left for good.

It also killed forty people and caused over thirty billion dollars in property damage. In addition, thirty percent of the coral reefs were destroyed.

As a result of this storm, many insurance carriers left the state and homeowners insurance rates quadrupled in Florida. This also caused even more hardship for property owners.

As a result of Hurricane Andrew many had inhabitable homes that had no roofs. However, despite these conditions most homeowners did not want to leave their homes for fear that looters would raid their homes and steal their belongings.

Crime was definitely up during this period. Hurricane Andrew was a perfect storm because it caused so much damage to the people of South Florida as well as the Insurance industy that this storm bankrupted many small insurance companies that could not absorb the losses.

This was considered one of the most expensive storms in United States history.

cafe41

The perfect storm movie that was developed based on the Perfect Storm novel by Sebastian Junger.

The George Clooney Perfect Storm movie was based on a true story of some people that were caught in a catastrophic nor’easter storm.

The term “Perfect Storm” was actually taken from this movie to refer to a negative chain of events with disastrous result.

Linda Greenlaw in the Perfect Storm movie was the female Captain of the ship. She has written many books chronicling her life at sea. Books like “Seaworthy” and a “Hungry Ocean” detailed her experiences at sea.

I have never seen that movie, but have heard good things about it. I have to say when I hear the term “Perfect Storm” I immediately think of all of the literal storms that have taken place.

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    • The multiple hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast of the US in 2005 are often considered a "perfect storm.".
      The multiple hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast of the US in 2005 are often considered a "perfect storm.".
    • Perfect storms are usually catastrophic.
      Perfect storms are usually catastrophic.
    • The term "the perfect storm" has its origins in meteorology, but the cliche can apply to many situations in which a confluence of events occur and create a surprise or catastrophic result.
      The term "the perfect storm" has its origins in meteorology, but the cliche can apply to many situations in which a confluence of events occur and create a surprise or catastrophic result.