Like ‘brave new world’ before it, the phrase ‘perfect storm’ became popular after it was the title of a book. Specifically, The Perfect Storm was a 1997 non-fiction bestseller by Sebastian Junger about the effects of a severe storm at sea in 1991. The title referred to the collective impact of numerous concurrent weather events—an impact that could be considered greater than the sum of its parts.
Three years later came an expensive and popular movie adaptation, ensuring the titular phrase’s place in pop culture. It soon became a cliché, however, as it was overused to describe any manner of situations where a variety of painful factors might coincide.
These days, for example, a perfect storm can apparently entail anything from a period of transition between Microsoft operating systems (OSs), according to ZDNet; through economic uncertainty for non-profit organizations, according to The Toronto Star; to—more literally, perhaps, but no more threatening—a forecast of colder-than-usual temperatures and two feet of snow in Morris County, N.J., according to the Daily Record.
The 1991 Nor’Easter that Junger wrote about was not unique in its strength, but it was most certainly of a noteworthy magnitude. By contrast, these ‘perfect storms’ that show up every day in newspapers are just that: everyday events, no more rare or noteworthy than any imperfect storm.