Since the dawn of time, we humans have been awestruck by the power of nature. So much so that we apply symbolic and even spiritual meanings to weather events. In this post, we’ll explore weather symbolism and meaning for different types of weather events, and how these associations have inspired literature, art, music, and more.
1. Weather Symbolism: Avalanches
Avalanches are often depicted as symbols for an overwhelming power that can completely take you over without warning. They are also used to describe a high quantity of something, like an avalanche of fan mail.
In addition, an avalanche can imply total surrender. And because avalanches often involve snow and a total whiteout, they are sometimes used to describe an overwhelming spiritual power, as in an avalanche of spiritual awareness changing the course of one’s life.
In the novel Snow Falling on Cedars, author David Guterson uses the metaphor of an avalanche to illuminate the difference between what we can control and what we can’t.
And in the song “Avalanche,” the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen writes: “Well I stepped into an avalanche / It covered up my soul…”
While the meaning of the song is left to personal interpretation, some Cohen fans say it’s the author’s way of describing his humbleness, or humanness, amidst an almighty higher power.”1
Like avalanche meaning, blizzard symbolism can represent a loss of control as well as disorientation. A blizzard can also imply an overwhelming spiritual power. In addition, the blinding whiteness and swirling winds can give us a sense of being lost in a vast and overwhelming Universe.
In literature, blizzards are sometimes used to describe isolation and introspection. For example, in Jack London’s story To Build a Fire, a man must survive a deadly blizzard alone in the wilderness, forcing him to confront his own mortality and the harsh realities of his life.
Blizzards can also be symbols of personal power and transformation. It’s as though the snow and ice create a blank slate, paving the way for a fresh start. In the popular film and play Frozen, a blizzard marks the start of the character Elsa’s journey of self-discovery and transformation. Through this process, she gains control of her personal power.
3. Chinook Winds
The Chinook winds have important symbolic meaning in Native American culture. For Native Americans, they represent change, transformation, and rebirth.
Referring to the winds as the “snow eater,” the Chinook People associate these winds with comfort and the coming of the spring because the warm air the winds bring melts the winter ice of the cold Pacific Northwest, paving the wave for spring vegetation to grow.
You can read about the Chinook Winds legend in my post on blue jay symbolism.
An incredibly powerful tropical storm, a cyclone can cause widespread destruction and chaos. Thus, cyclone symbolism includes uncontrollable power. In addition, as with avalanche and blizzard meanings, cyclones can imply overwhelming spiritual power as well as punishment.
Characterized by winds that start small and then spiral outwards, gaining in strength, the cyclone also shares symbolism with spirals. As I noted in my post about snake meanings, a spiral can represent something small, such as an idea, becoming something much larger and more powerful, such as a social movement. Thus, cyclones also symbolize change and transformation.
The cyclone can have both negative and positive associations. For example, Hindus associated their god Shiva with cyclones. In this case, the cyclone represents Shiva’s capacity to destroy and then recreate the world.
Derechos are powerful wind and rain storms that move in a straight line. In fact, the name derecho is a Spanish word that means straight or direct.2
On a symbolic level, a derecho is a metaphor for a focused onslaught or a direct hit. Indeed, it can imply a personal insult or hurt.
For the Native American tribes of the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys, derechos can represent transformative or clearing energy that can be painful at first, but which ultimately moves obstacles and negative energy out of one’s path.
In contrast to the powerful nature of blizzards, cyclones, and other storms, drought symbolism implies an absence of power or vitality. In addition, a drought can represent feelings of emptiness and desolation and a loss of hope. Furthermore, it can signify a lack of creative inspiration.
In the Bible, God punishes people by sending droughts. For example, in Deuteronomy 11:17, Moses says, “If you do, the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut up the sky and hold back the rain, and the ground will fail to produce its harvests. Then you will quickly die in that good land the Lord is giving you.”3
In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, drought is a central theme in the story. A devastating drought forces the Joad Family to leave their farm in Oklahoma and travel to California in search of work. The drought represents the harsh reality of life during the Great Depression.
In essence, just as water can signify life, drought can signify death.
Fog is a weather phenomenon that occurs when there is a high concentration of water droplets in the air. For example, in coastal Northern California, which is known for its for, when the hot air from the Central Valley hits the cold air from the Pacific Ocean, fog is formed.
Fog also has some intriguing symbolic meanings. These meanings include uncertainty, confusion, and mystery as well as peace. Because fog can obscure objects and landscapes, it’s also associated with secrets, hidden knowledge, and the unknown. In literature and art, fog is often used to create an eerie and unsettling atmosphere.
It can also imply confusion in one’s own head, such as when we say we have brain fog.
Fog’s positive associations include beauty and tranquility. This is particularly true in natural settings, such as forests and mountains, where fog can create a mystical atmosphere. So, fog symbolism also includes the idea of magic and enchantment.
8. Weather Meaning: Floods
As with blizzard meanings, floods can symbolize being overwhelmed or inundated, such as experiencing a “flood of emotions,” or being “flooded with offers.”
Needless to say, flood symbolism can be both positive and negative.
For example, in the ancient Mesopotamian story The Epic of Gilgamesh, a flood represents a violation of the natural order and a punishment for human arrogance.
Yet, in the biblical story of The Great Flood, God cleanses the Earth of wickedness by sending a giant flood so that it can begin anew.
Similarly, in Hindu mythology, the god Vishnu saves the world from a flood by taking the form of a fish.
Interestingly, cultures around the world, from Judeo-Christian to Egyptian, Greek, Native American, and Hindu, tell stories of a world that was once covered by water.
In addition to transformation, floods can also represent destruction and even madness.
In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a flood represents how feelings that are promising, or hopeful, at first can descend into darkness and chaos in the human soul.
As with other types of storms, hail can represent overwhelming power. Yet, hail is unique in the way it throws hard little balls from the sky. Because of this, hail symbolism also includes the impact of multitudes, or how small details make up a whole. For example, the average-sized hail ball may not kill you, but hundreds of hail balls raining down upon you can definitely cause damage.
Thus, hail symbolism also includes wake-up calls and reminders. As well, it can indicate the hardening of someone’s heart, or a loss of compassion, as soft raindrops freeze to become hard, pebble-like balls.
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth Act 1, Scene 1, there is a passage that goes, “Strange images of death. As thick as hail, Came post with post, and every one did bear Thy praises in his kingdom’s great defense, And poured them down before him.”
The passage describes the arrival of messengers who bring praises and news of Macbeth’s victory. While at first the hailstorm might seem like a positive image of plentitude, it also presents a foreboding image of destruction, hinting at Macbeth’s future downfall due to his hubris and hunger for power.
10. Heat Waves
Heat wave symbolism can signify a sense of suffocation, lethargy, exhaustion, and even oppression.
In Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, the heavy heat of a New Orleans summer exacerbates the already fraught relationships between the characters.
The heat serves as a metaphor for the intense emotional pressure that the characters are under, leading to a climactic explosion of emotion.
Heat waves can also imply passion and desire as well as a lack of control in these areas. For example, the intense heat can cause people to act irrationally and without reason, as though they are under a spell.
As with cyclone symbolism, hurricanes can represent destruction, chaos, and things cycling out of control. They can also symbolize something gaining momentum and increasing in power.
As Neil Young wrote in his song “Like a Hurricane”: “You are like a hurricane, There’s calm in your eye, And I’m gettin’ blown away, To somewhere safer where the feeling stays, I want to love you but I’m getting blown away.”
As Young references, an important metaphorical aspect to hurricanes is the calmness at their center, or the eye of the hurricane. Young alludes to the danger despite this calm. However, in other interpretations, the eye of the hurricane can also imply finding peace of mind or lowering the volume on stress, despite existing stress and chaos.
This is an important concept in Buddhist practice: to not get caught up in the pandemonium of your own thoughts, but instead to observe them without emotional detachment.
Like avalanches, landslides represent a sudden and overwhelming force that can catch you off-guard and take over. Thus, landslides can represent a path of destruction. Yet, they can also imply something positive, such as a landslide victory in politics.
Landslides can also symbolize getting out of one’s comfort zone, or taking a leap of faith, even if things feel dangerous. For example, Stevie Nicks wrote the song “Landslide” during a pivotal moment in her creative and emotional life. It was also the time right before she and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band Fleetwood Mac and became world famous.
“I took my love, I took it down / I climbed a mountain and I turned around / And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills / ‘Til the landslide brought me down…”
Lightning is a theme that appears often in mythology, as well as in film, literature, and other art forms. It often symbolizes power and divine intervention.
For example, in Greek mythology, Zeus throws lightning bolts when he displays his power. Similarly, in the Bible, lightning is an awe-inspiring force, which is controlled by God and often accompanies divine punishments and revelations.
Lightning can also symbolize sudden change or transformation. For example, the unpredictable nature of lightning strikes can be a metaphor for unexpected events as well as big ideas that pop into your head or epiphanies that bring mental and spiritual breakthroughs.
Lightning can also symbolize inspiration and creativity. (If you are particularly attracted to lightning as a symbol for creative inspiration, you might enjoy my post on the 777 angel number.)
In popular culture, lightning bolts are often associated with superheroes and characters with extraordinary abilities.
Similar to fog symbolism, mist also has special symbolic meanings. For example, in literature and film, mist is often used to create an eerie or ominous atmosphere. For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, the moors are often shrouded in mist, which adds to the sense of danger and foreboding. Similarly, in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, mist symbolizes the confusion and chaos that pervades the play.
Mist can also denote magic and enchantment, as well as angels and divinity. In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s book The Mists of Avalon, it is the mists that separate the material and magical worlds. In addition, angels or other spiritual guardians are said to come out of the mist.
The monsoon season is a much-anticipated time of year in countries that touch the Indian Ocean. The arrival of the monsoon rains brings relief from heat and drought. However, they can also bring flooding and destruction. So, monsoon symbolism has varied meanings. In general, monsoons represent the cyclical nature of life as well as change and renewal.
In Hindu mythology, the monsoon is associated with the god Indra, who is said to control the rains. Hindus say the monsoon rains are Indra’s blessings.
The monsoon season brings much-needed water for crops, and the abundance of fresh produce during the monsoon season is celebrated in local cultures. Thus, monsoon symbolism also includes abundance and prosperity.
However, because monsoons cause flooding and landslides, they’re also associated with sadness and loss.
Rain is a ubiquitous symbol in cultures around the world and in various art forms. It can symbolize a range of emotions, from relief to grief to happiness. As well, rain meaning includes the concepts of renewal, life, transformation, purification, destruction, and prosperity.
In some parts of the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessings. For example, Psalm 147:8 describes God’s favor: “Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who provides rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.”4
At other times, such as in the story of the Great Flood, God uses rain to cleanse the world of its sins and to start it anew.
In Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, rain symbolizes the impending doom of war as well as the impermanence in life. For example, the character Lt. Frederic Henry retreats from the front lines during a rainstorm, which foreshadows tragedy to come.
In another scene, the character Catherine tells Frederic that she fears the rain, which hints at future heartache for the lovers.5
On the other hand, the famous song, “Love, Reign o’er Me” by The Who celebrates the beauty of rain: “Only love can make it rain / The way the beach is kissed by the sea / Only love can make it rain / Like the sweat of lovers layin’ in the fields…”
Rainbows are a beautiful and fascinating meteorological phenomenon that people around the world revere. Thus, rainbow symbolism is rich with meaning. One of the most common rainbow meanings is hope. This is because rainbows will appear after a storm as the sun starts to break though. This represents a transformation from a challenging period to a time of hope and new beginnings.
In addition, the sheer beauty of rainbows is awe inspiring. Whatever your favorite color is, you will likely find it in a rainbow.
Rainbows have deep spiritual meanings too. Indeed, they are seen in some cultures as a bridge between the material and spiritual worlds. For example, when a beloved pet dies, we say they have crossed the rainbow bridge.
In addition, rainbows are viewed as a communication line between humans and the divine. This symbolism is present in both Christianity and Hinduism, where rainbows are seen as a sign of God’s promise.
In addition, for those who believe in sacred geometry, the seven colors in the rainbow resonate with the importance of the number seven in other aspects of life, such as the seven notes in a diatonic musical scale, the seven continents on Earth as well, and the seven seas. (You can read more about this in my post on angel number 777.)
Furthermore, in modern times, the rainbow has become a symbol of diversity and inclusivity. In fact, the rainbow flag has become a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community and their struggle for equal rights. The colors of the flag represent the beauty and variety of human experience.
Sandstorms have similar meanings to other types of storms, such as being symbols for chaos. In addition, they share similarities with avalanche symbolism in that they can create sudden confusion and disorientation. Thus, sandstorm symbolism can represent a loss of direction in life or a feeling of being lost in a vast emptiness.
In the science fiction novel and movie Dune, the giant sandstorms on the planet Arrakis underscore the danger of the planet, particularly for outsiders who are unfamiliar with the planet. Only those who are tried and tested seem to survive them.
Ancient Egyptian mythology has similar symbolic meanings for sandstorms. The Egyptian god Set was the deity of the desert and sandstorms. Because he ruled over such powerful and hostile natural phenomena, the Egyptians viewed him as an extremely powerful god.6 So, sandstorms represent a kind of seasoned power gained with experience.
In cultures throughout the world, thunder is a symbol of power and strength. It can also represent the uncontrollable forces in our lives as well as our own emotional states, such as when we raise our voice in anger.
In addition, thunder is a symbol of divine intervention or messages being delivered from a higher power.
In Norse mythology, the god Thor creates thunders when slams his mighty hammer, Mjölnir, down.
Likewise, the ancient Greeks attributed thunder to their god Zeus.
Both deities were known to have bad tempers.
Tornadoes are sudden and unpredictable weather phenomenons that are incredibly powerful and can be extremely destructive. Thus, tornadoes symbolize chaos and upheaval.
As with cyclone symbolism, tornado meaning is associated with a spiral symbol in that it represents something small gaining momentum and growing in force.
Though they are cataclysmic in nature, tornadoes can also represent expanding awareness and spiritual growth.
For example, in the film The Wizard of Oz, a tornado transports Dorothy and her dog Toto from their home in Kansas to the magical land of Oz. The weather event sets off a chain of events that leads to self-discovery on Dorothy’s and the other character’s parts as well as a realization that everything they needed was actually right where they started.
In Native American mythology, tornadoes took on female form. For example, for the Iroquois, tornadoes were the embodiment of a goddess they called Dagwanoenyent, who was the daughter of the wind spirit. And for the Seneca People, tornadoes were caused by a dangerous witch who could not be killed. If you angered her, she might pick you up and toss you many miles away.7
As with flood meanings, tsunami symbolism includes devastation and destruction as well as cleansing and renewal. Yet like blizzard symbolism, tsunamis represent a sudden cataclysmic change.
Because they are so powerful, tsunamis can also represent surrendering or giving into the flow of events instead of resisting them.
In Japanese mythology, the goddess Namazu is associated with earthquakes and tsunamis. She is depicted as a giant catfish-like creature who lives underground.
Normally, Namazu is kept under control by the deity Takemikazuchi, who restrains her with a giant stone. However, sometimes he lets his guard down, and Namazu thrashes about, causing earthquakes and tsunamis.8
Like cyclones and hurricanes, typhoons symbolize ominous power as well as chaos and destruction. They can also imply passion and uncontrollable urges, or the idea of something relatively benign, like a tropical storm, gaining power and taking over all reason.
In Japanese culture, typhoons are associated with the god of storms, Susanoo, who is often depicted as a fearsome warrior wielding a sword. According to Japanese legends, Susanoo fought and defeated an eight-headed dragon that was causing storms and flooding across the land. This story reflects the idea that typhoons can be both destructive and transformative, and yet they have the power to bring about change and renewal.9
Wildfires are another form of natural (and manmade) phenomena that have varied symbolic meanings. For example, in modern times, they have come to be symbols (and the result) of climate change and anthropogenic changes to our natural world.
However, Native Americans traditionally viewed wildfires as symbols of regeneration and renewal, as natural wildfires cleared out overgrown and dead vegetation, which fostered the growth of new plants.
In Greek mythology, the god Hephaestus, a fire deity who ruled metalworking, caused wildfires. The Greeks believed that he worked in a forge surrounded by flames, which sometimes got out of control, causing wildfires.
In general, wildfires symbolize the idea of something that gets out of control. Or something that should be constrained but isn’t, so it quickly gains momentum. For example, the saying that something “spreads like wildfire” is used to describe super-fast adoption or popularity.
In conclusion, weather symbolism has been an integral part of human culture and mythology throughout history. Powerful weather events provide added meaning to our human experiences while continuing to fill us with a sense of awe. Perhaps it’s healthy for us humans to realize we’re not in control of everything.