‘Cooking up a storm’ and ‘faces like thunder’ (Idioms with weather words, Part 1)

Sir Francis Canker Photography/Moment/Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

It may not surprise you to hear that the weather features in a lot of English idioms. In many of these, the weather words are used metaphorically, in a way that makes the meaning quite obvious. For example, a storm often features in idioms as something negative, referring to a period of trouble, and a cloud is something that spoils a situation. This post will focus on idioms related to storms, of which there are many!

Starting with those negative ‘storm’ idioms, we talk about the calm before the storm, meaning ‘a quiet, peaceful period before a time of great activity or trouble’:

We’ve got 15 kids arriving for Joe’s party in ten minutes. It’s the calm before the storm.

In UK English, we use the phrase a storm in a teacup to refer to a situation in which a lot of people express anger and shock over a matter that is not important. US English has the equivalent phrase a tempest in a teapot:

In a couple of weeks, everyone will have forgotten what she said. It’s a storm in a teacup!

If you weather or ride (out) the storm, you survive a difficult period, without permanent damage, often to your reputation:

The minister appears to have ridden out the storm.

I suspect the government will weather the storm.

The phrase any port in a storm means that when you are in a very difficult situation, you will accept anything that seems helpful or attractive, even if it is not ideal:

In many ways, they weren’t the perfect partners for us, but any port in a storm, I guess.

The slightly strange phrase perfect storm refers to a very bad situation caused by lots of bad things happening at the same time:

It was the perfect storm – a fire in the cafe, staffing problems and then the pandemic. There was no way the business could survive.

Not all ‘storm’ idioms are negative, however. If you do something up a storm, you do it with great energy and skill:

Alex is cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, if someone takes something or someone by storm, they are suddenly extremely successful in a particular place or with a group of people:

In 2019, she took the critics by storm with her debut album.

Of course, we can’t talk about storm idioms without mentioning thunder and lightning. In UK English, if someone has a face like thunder, they look extremely angry:

She walked into the office this morning with a face like thunder.

To steal someone’s thunder is to do what someone else was planning to do before they do it, unfairly taking the attention or praise away from them:

I’ll let Rachel tell you her news. I don’t want to steal her thunder.

Meanwhile, if someone does something like greased lightning, they do it extremely quickly:

I told Jim she was coming, and he was out of the house like greased lightning!

I’ll leave you with a saying. Lightning never strikes twice means ‘it is unlikely that something bad or strange will happen twice to the same person or in the same place’.

Part 2 of this post will look at idioms with the weather words ‘cloud’ and ‘sun’, amongst other words.

33 thoughts on “‘Cooking up a storm’ and ‘faces like thunder’ (Idioms with weather words, Part 1)

  1. Denis

    Excellent! 🙂
    I just have one question: could the idiom ‘up a storm’ be used in the following context?
    ‘After five years’ lucubration up a storm, I’ve finally achieved the highest level of fluency in English.’
    (Lucubration here means intensive study.)

    1. Hi, dennis. If you use ‘up a storm’ somewhere, you need to put a (verb+ing) form before it. So, in your case, it has to be “After five years of lucubrating up a storm…” . Hope this helps.

      1. Denis

        Thanks Kumar. However, I wouldn’t say that we ‘need to put…’, we just can do it depending on the context. But, I suppose, your general idea is acceptable. Thus, the sentence ‘After two hours of talking up a storm, we’ve finally reached an agreement.’ would grammatically work.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi! That’s a good question. I think people do use idioms. They’re quite often a shorthand for saying something that would otherwise require a bit of explanation, so they can be quite useful. They’re also a way of injecting variety and humour into speech. I hope that’s answered your question. Best wishes from Cambridge.

  2. Maryem Salama

    To my surprise, while I read your post, I felt that I am familiar with most of your selected idioms. In my opinion, the main reasons for this sense of familiarity are the rapid movement of translation between the two languages and my job as a translator. Thank you, my dear Kate.

  3. Denis

    Hi Kate! Thanks a million for your response, it definitely makes sense. I just wanted to clarify, is it a wide range of verbs that we can use ‘up a storm’ with? Would, for example, these sentences be correct:
    ‘I’m ready to beaver away up a storm to get promoted.’;
    ‘I’m eager to work up a storm in an international environment.’;
    ‘I’m eager to use English up a storm in a professional manner on a permanent basis.’?

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Denis, your hunch that this is a slightly restricted phrase is right. After a bit of investigation, I can see that ‘cook’ is by far the most common, but that verbs related to performing for others are also used – so, act, dance, sing, talk, for example. I hope that helps. Best wishes.

  4. 申昭明 Ming

    Hi, Kate! You did a great job out there! My hat off to you for your contribution. I love these expressions and I am gonna try to remember them. Just one question: are all of the idioms widely and frequently used nowadays in speaking? (If not, which of these are particularly useful? 😂) Million of thanks!

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi! Thanks – that’s a lovely comment! As I answered above, idioms like these are used in conversation (and sometimes writing), albeit fairly sparingly. People tend to drop an idiom into a conversation now and then to add a bit of colour of humour, or simply to convey a concept in a few words. Also, Liz Walter and I try not to include the sort of idioms that people don’t use any more – the sort that have ‘old-fashioned’ by them, even though some speakers even use these. I hope that helps. All the best to you!

  5. Tatiana Balandina

    Dear Kate! I always enjoy reading your articles, they are so informative. I would also like to ask you the same question which Ming asked. Are the idioms frequently used in everyday life? I remember my friends in the USA were surprised when i used them. Thanks a lot for all the information!

  6. Searoop raj

    I know about idioms but steal I am trying to learn English language .
    . is someone to help me for fluent English . Thanks


    Hi, Kate! Thank you very much for the exemplary article from which I have benefited a lot.
    best wishes/regards.

  8. Muhammad Imran Sharif

    If we keep on learning & then using new idioms for sure it would make our written expression more professional & decent.

    Kate woodford ! you are enhancing our english learning capacity.

  9. Imtiaz Ahmad

    Thank you so much sir . difficult idiom Explained in the simplest language . Lighting never strike twice is related to poshto idiom ( wrun pa mogi bar bar na wlege) which means a blind doesn’t trip on Post ( small wood used to tie an animal around) again and again. Moreover I will grateful if you tell us what word is used for the post to animal with

  10. Wangyu Chen

    I really like your article. As a student and an English language lover, I find it very useful and interesting.

  11. Gabriel Bonfim

    In Brazilian Portuguese we’ve got a similar idiom which stands for “Storm in a teacup”. It says: “Tempestade num copo d’agua” (Storm in a water glass)

Leave a Reply