Have you ever heard someone talk about “the calm before the storm”? If you’ve seen storms up close, you know there’s usually nothing calm about them! So what are people talking about?

The calm — sometimes called a lull — before the storm is a phrase often used to refer to a period of peace or rest that comes right before a time that is very busy or hectic. When you think about it, it just makes sense.

If you’re suddenly very busy with activities or lots of excitement, the period of time before that started would naturally be peaceful by comparison. There’s actually a little more to it than that, though.

The calm before the storm got started as a phrase sailors used to refer to an actual weather phenomenon they observed often at sea. You may have noticed this phenomenon from time to time, too.

For example, have you ever been playing in your backyard on a warm summer day? As you’re having fun, you suddenly notice that the world around you seems quieter. The air around you is still and even the birds and other animals seem to have disappeared.

Before long, you start noticing changes. Clouds appear. Winds increase. You head for the house just as raindrops begin to fall from the sky. As you look out the window at the rain falling, you might wonder, “Why did it get so calm right before the storm?”

That’s the same question that sailors and other people have asked for thousands of years. Fortunately, the science behind storms can help us understand the calm that sometimes comes before them.

The fuel that storms run on is warm, moist air. As a storm approaches, it pulls warm, moist air from the atmosphere all around it. It can even pull air from the direction in which it’s traveling.

As air is drawn into a storm, it leaves a low-pressure vacuum in the area it came from. The warm, moist air travels up through storm clouds, cooling and condensing as it feeds the storm clouds.

However, updrafts quickly push the air out of the tops of the storm clouds. Once it gets pushed out, it descends back down toward Earth, drawn by areas with low-pressure vacuums (or, in other words, right back where it came from!).

As the air descends, it gets warmer and drier. This warm, dry air that settles back down to Earth is stable. As it covers an area, things tend to get quiet and calm. This is the calm before the storm!

Of course, things don’t always happen this way. There are many different types of storms that can behave in many different ways. Sometimes storms aren’t preceded by calm. Instead, they announce their arrival with wild winds and cracks of thunder.

52 Join the Discussion

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    • Hey there, Laserdudle! We are glad you’re back today– we love WONDERing with you! We Wonder if you can read today’s Wonder and guess what it means to say there is a “calm before the storm”? We bet you’ll learn a new thing or two– thanks for joining the fun today! :)

  1. We think a calm before a storm may be scary. We know that animals know there is a storm coming before we do.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about student not staying put, a dog not staying put, an exited child.

    • Hello, Wonder Friends in Ms. Bayko’s class! We are glad that you’re using your AWESOME imaginations this morning to Wonder with us!

      We love that you learned about animal instincts today– it’s an indication that a storm is a-brewin’!

      Also, thank you for sharing your guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder– we are so proud of all of you! We hope to see you tomorrow, Wonder Friends! :)

    • WOW, did you meet Mike Nelson, who wrote The Colorado Weather Almanac?! How very cool, Barbie Doll! We bet you enjoyed refreshing your memory with today’s Wonder about weather. We Wonder if you’d like to share something you learned from Mike’s visit to your school!? :)

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,

    Today’s wonder was unexpected and we enjoyed the video.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about things that don’t stay still like babies, students, or animals.

    Thank you for the wonders,
    Mrs. Tillman’s 4th graders.

    • WOHOO, we’re pumped to Wonder with the students in Mrs. Tillman’s 4th grade class today! :)

      Today’s Wonder was unexpected, indeed, but we’re glad you liked it! We think you’re on to something with your guesses… we can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s Wonder will bring! Thanks for joining the fun today, Wonder Friends! :)

  3. We have a lot of ideas about tomorrow’s wonder…… maybe it is about people, or animals or maybe even a tornado or earthquake. We can hardly stay put to find out!

    • HOORAY, Mrs. Keeling’s class is WONDERing today! :) We think you have shared some STELLAR guesses! We can’t wait to find out what it will be… and we hope you’ll be back tomorrow to find out! We’ll see you then! :)

  4. We have calms before our storms in class, we get quiet and then we start talking all at once. ;)

    We have some thoughts about tomorrow’s wonder~ We had a lot of different guesses but we think Earth, Water, Clouds and Wind are our top 4 guesses! Can’t wait to see tomorrow’s wonder!

    • That’s a great example of a calm before the storm– way to go Mrs. Fish’s class! We love your nature-themed guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder– we can’t wait to see you again to find out! Have a WONDERful Wednesday, Wonder Friends! :)

    • Hi there, Jacob, we Wonder what your favorite part of today’s Wonder was? We think it’s great that you’re using your imagination with all of us here at Wonderopolis! :)

  5. We enjoyed the answer to today’s question. The video was surprising to us. While it helped to relax us after recess, it lacked the excitement that some of the other videos have had.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about: a baby, a trampoline, the earth, Mexican jumping beans, or dogs.

    • Hello Wonder Friends in Mrs. Wall’s 4th grade class! We are glad you liked learning about our stormy Wonder today! This particular Wonder is a bit more calming than the others– we agree!

      We LOVE your guesses for tomorrow’s guess– we can hardly sit still as we wait for tomorrow’s Wonder! :)

    • Hey there, Luis! We are glad you liked WONDERing about storms, weather and science today! We hope you have a WONDERful Wednesday, no matter where you are! :)

  6. I remember once there was Abigail storm here in Chicago there was almost a tornado. It ended up being a funnel cloud. It was amazing.

    • Hi there, Ethan, thanks for sharing your weather comment today! We think it’s interesting that there was nearly a tornado, but it didn’t make it all them way to formation! We know that Illinois has a lot of tornado warnings because of all the flat land in the state! We bet it was cool to see the Abigail storm from a safe distance! :)

  7. Hey wonderopolis! Well, really what is the calm before the storm? Is it so that all of the animals and people get inside safe?

    • That’s a great Wonder, Gina M! We would love to think that the science of weather (which creates a calm before the storm) has a purpose! How cool that you connected the dots and thought of the safety of others! Thanks for sharing your SUPER comment today! :)

  8. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We think tomorrow might be about a baby because they won’t stay still. Some of our other guesses include the wind, a spinning top, the Earth (that never stays still), or a race car.

    Thank you for the wonders,
    Mrs. Witkowski’s 4th grade

    • COOL– we LOVE your guesses, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Witkowski’s 4th grade class! :) You’ve done a great job using your imaginations to guess a movin’ and shakin’ Wonder for tomorrow! We can’t wait to find out what it will be– we’re oh-so-glad you’re here today! :)

  9. So this story is really boring I didn’t really like the story at all… You should get into more biology studies or forensic perhaps?

    • Hi there, Sarah A! We’re glad you commented on our Wonder today, we appreciate your thoughts! We’re sorry to hear today’s Wonder wasn’t your favorite, but thanks for sharing your suggestions for future Wonders, too! We are glad you’re WONDERing on your own!

      We Wonder if you’ll enjoy this science-focused Wonder from the past:
      Wonder #47– Why Do Leaves Change Color in Autumn? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/why-do-leaves-change-color-in-autumn/ :)

    • Great guess, Hope! We are happy that you’ve been WONDERing about science and storms today– we can’t wait to see you tomorrow! :)

    • Great point, EPES 5th grader! Sometimes storms can be different, but you might be familiar with the calm before a tornado! If you’ve ever had to go into the basement of your school or home due to tornado warnings, the calm before the storm is very real. We are so glad that you mentioned the sky– it is usually overcast before it rains or storms! Nice WORK! :)

    • We hope you take a look at our Wonder to find out what causes that calm before the storm, Hannah! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today, Wonder Friend! :)

    • We certainly agree with you, Wonder Friend Madisen! Perhaps you will visit a place just like Newport Harbor– the video makes us want to go there right now! We loved the words you used to describe the location– peaceful and beautiful! Nice work! :)

  10. That was very interesting. I haven’t been on wonderopolis for a long time and last time I was on there wasn’t that quiz at the end.

    • Welcome back to Wonderopolis, Vedha! We’re so glad you’re here and you’ve noticed the changes we’ve made! We hope you’ll take the Wonder quiz on lots of different Wonders! It’s so much fun! We hope you’ll visit and post to our Wonder Wall, too: http://wonderopolis.org/wonderwall/ :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Is it always calm before a storm?
  • Do all storms behave the same way?
  • What should you do to stay safe in a storm?

Wonder Gallery

calm before the storm shutterstock_40888807 (1)hhhVimeo Video

Try It Out

If you’ve had enough of the calm, it’s time for the storm! Grab a few friends or family members and explore one or more of the following fun activities:

  • Do you like storms or do they scare you? Some people enjoy the crack of the thunder and the way the lightning lights up the sky. Others get nervous and can’t wait for the storm to pass. What do you like to do during a storm? In Wonderopolis, we like to curl up under the blankets with a good book while the rain splashes against the window pane. Others might like to watch weather reports on television or listen to a police scanner to get the latest news on developing storms. Talk with your friends and family members about what they usually do during a storm. Just make sure whatever you do is inside and away from danger!
  • Whether you enjoy a good storm or not, it’s always best to be safe when storms roll through. Here are some tips to keep you safe the next time the thunder and lightning start up:
    • If you’re in a pool, lake, river or ocean, get out! Water conducts electricity, which can be dangerous during a lightning storm.
    • If you’re outside, get inside! Find shelter in your house or the nearest shelter. Getting inside will protect you from rain, wind and the other parts of a storm that can be dangerous or unpleasant.
    • If no shelter of any kind is available, stay away from large objects, such as tall trees. Lightning tends to hit things that are really tall, so stay away from those things if you have to stay outside during a storm.
    • If you’re going to be outside for an extended period of time, check the weather forecast. If a storm is headed your way, make plans in advance about what you’ll do if it interrupts your plans.
  • Up for a challenge? Jump online to visit the Storm Prediction Center. What does the weather look like for your area today? Explore the site and learn all you can about how weather is tracked and predictions are made. Check out the radar maps. If a storm is forecast for your area, can you track its progress via radar online? How accurate do the radar displays and predictions seem to be? Do you think you’d ever want to be a meteorologist? Why or why not? Have fun learning more about storm prediction. Be sure to share the information you learn with friends and family members!

Still Wondering

Explore National Geographic Education’s Tracking Violent Storms activity to learn how to construct choropleth maps showing the frequency of tornadoes by state in the United States.

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