What to Expect From the ‘Bomb Cyclone’ Set to Pummel the East Coast

Timothy A. Clary, Getty Images
Timothy A. Clary, Getty Images

We're just a few days into the new year, and a winter storm of historic strength is already churning up the East Coast. As The Washington Post reports, the weather event has the potential to be the most severe storm in decades to form over the waters east of New England at this time of year.

The storm is being described as a "winter hurricane" and a "bomb cyclone"—terms that rival "snowpocalypse." But it's more than just dramatic weather lingo. Unlike blizzards that form over land, this one is powered by the Atlantic Ocean and is expected to drop to Hurricane Sandy-level atmospheric pressure within 24 hours. As pressure decreases more rapidly, the storm grows more intense in a process called bombogeneis (hence the "bomb" part of "bomb cyclone"). If it follows current projections, the storm will blanket the coast in dense, fast-falling sheets of snow.

The storm is already blasting southeastern states with rare ice and snow, prompting winter storm warnings in northern Florida for the first time in years. As it makes its way up the coast, the system will continue to strengthen. By the time it reaches New England Thursday, it's expected to hit the region with 40 to 60 mph winds and up to a foot of snow.

While the exact trajectory remains unclear, everyone living near the northeast coast should be prepared to hunker down from late Wednesday to Thursday night. A winter storm warning has been launched for the New Jersey shore, parts of Long Island, and parts of Connecticut, and a winter storm watch is currently in effect in New York City. Major cities farther south and farther inland, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., could make it through the storm with little to no snow accumulation.

The bomb cyclone follows a wicked cold snap across the U.S. that's already claimed the lives of 11 people. Temperatures in the northeast have remained below freezing since Christmas, and the impending storm will bring even more frigid weather this week.

[h/t The Washington Post]

What Is a Bomb Cyclone?

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The phrase bomb cyclone has re-entered the news this week as parts of the central U.S. face severe weather. Mountain and Midwestern states, including Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota, all fall in the path of a winter storm expected to deliver tornadoes, hail, heavy snow, flooding, and hurricane-force winds on Wednesday, March 13 into Thursday. It seems appropriate for a storm that strong to have bomb in its name, but the word actually refers to a meteorological phenomenon and not the cyclone's explosive intensity.

According to The Denver Post, the bomb in bomb cyclone stands for bombogenesis. Bombogenesis occurs when a non-tropical storm experiences at least a 24 millibar (the unit used to measure barometric pressure) drop within 24 hours. Low pressure makes for intense storms, so a bomb cyclone is a system that's built up a significant amount strength in a short length of time.

This type of storm usually depends on the ocean or another large body of water for its power. During the winter, the relatively warm air coming off the ocean and the cold air above land can collide to create a sharp drop in atmospheric pressure. Also known as a winter hurricane, this effect has produced some of the worst snowstorms to ever hit the U.S.

The fact that this latest bomb cyclone has formed nowhere near the coast makes it even more remarkable. Rather, a warm, subtropical air mass and a cold, Arctic air mass crossed paths, creating the perfect conditions for a rare bombogenesis over the Rockies and Great Plains states.

Central U.S. residents in the bomb cyclone's path have taken great precautions ahead of the storm. Over 1000 flights have been canceled for Wednesday and schools throughout Colorado have closed.

[h/t The Denver Post]

Watch a Rare ‘Ice Tsunami’ Slam Lake Erie

Clean Lakes Alliance, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Clean Lakes Alliance, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A combination of freezing cold temperatures and high winds is creating an unusual phenomenon along Lake Erie. As KDKA reports, ice tsunamis are toppling onto lake shores, and many locals have been asked to stay inside and even evacuate their homes.

On February 24, 2019, the National Weather Service in Buffalo, New York issued a warning about dangerous wind gusts in the Lake Erie area. The service urged citizens to seek shelter indoors and avoid traveling if possible. Winds peaked at 74 mph earlier this week, the level of a Category 1 hurricane, and tore down trees and power lines throughout the region.

People who got close to Lake Erie during the windstorm witnessed a rare event known as an ice tsunami. When wind pushed ice on the lake's surface toward the retaining wall, the sheet broke apart and dumped massive ice chunks on the shore. The video below captures the phenomenon.

In some areas, the ice piles grew so large that roadways had to be closed. Residents of Hamburg, New York's Hoover Beach area were asked to voluntarily evacuate due to the encroaching ice.

Ice tsunamis, or ice shoves, are rare, but in some cases they can be life-threatening. In 2013, waves of ice shards from a Minnesota lake destroyed people's homes.

[h/t KDKA]

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