Extreme Weather: Bomb Cyclone

 In Science

Extreme Weather: Bomb Cyclone

We’ve all experienced extreme weather. In the past year alone, extreme weather events like the two major hurricanes and the wildfires on the West Coast have reminded us of the power of nature. But hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes are the extreme weather events we’re familiar with. This year showed us some that we weren’t so familiar with as well.

An unusual extreme weather event that most had never heard of was the so-called bomb cyclone. So what exactly makes something a bomb cyclone, and why does it have such a bomb name?

They’re known by a lot of names: weather bomb, bombogenesis, meterological bomb, and even explosive cyclogenesis. Essentially, all of these names capture the same phenomena.

History of the Bomb Cyclone

This particular brand of extreme weather was first referred to with bomb terminology in the 1940s and 1950s. Meteorologists gave these storms this informal name because of their ferocity and speed.

The term came into the come usage by the 1980s because of MIT professor Fred Sander and McGill University professor John Gyakum. They authored a 1980 paper in Monthly Weather Review which gave the event its name. It, like polar vortex, has captured the public’s attention from time to time.

Some researches objected to the term bomb because they felt it was too warlike. Fred Sanders, felt this criticism was unwarranted. He even famously quipped “Then why are you using front” in response to complaints from certain European researchers.

How Bomb Cyclones Work

Bomb cyclones usually occur in winter. They also usually occur over the ocean. Essentially, the pressure of such a storm drops very very rapidly causing the “storm” elements of the events to occur very quickly and very violently. The events almost never occur over land, which is why many people had never heard the term in their lifetime when it struck the East Coast in January.

A lot of factors go into creating the extreme weather of a bomb cyclone. Relative heat and pressure, various air streams, and the air-sea interaction all play a role.

Technically, the low pressure system needs to fall 24 millibars in 24 hours or less. But for anyone other than a meteorologist, this is mostly gibberish.

A Bit About Weather

Low pressure systems just mean an area where the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level is lower than other areas. Hence, low pressure. Winds in the area can rotate and form cyclones. As the air spins, air moves up higher and collects moisture. Pressure is measured using those millibars I mentioned.

Even a few millibar drops is significant. As pressure drops, storms can get stronger. A drop from the average pressure of 1013.2 millibars to the 900s is what causes intense hurricanes. So when a storm drops a lot of pressure fast, it builds and “explodes” very quickly.

Additionally, they usually occur when warm air and hot air collide, which happens often when the colder air off of North America collides with the warm air over the Atlantic, making the North Atlantic a common spot for bombogenesis.

The Most Recent Bomb Cyclone

Extreme Weather, Bomb Cyclone

The storm that hit the East Coast brought with it a great deal of snow and cold. Record cold in many places. Not only that, but it affected the entire seaboard from Florida to Maine. The cold wasn’t entirely from the bomb cyclone, but it certainly made it worse.

And the effects were far from benign.

It even created a slightly diplomatic incident between the US and Canada. McCurdy’s Smokehouse is the” last traditional herring facility in the US and is on the National Register of Historic Places.” The storm was so powerful that it tore one of the five building that make up McCurdy’ and floated it all the way from Lubec, Man into a Canadian island.

The nonprofit organization that preserve McCurdy’s weren’t immediately able to salvage the building because of some Canadian scavenger claims. Apparently, some people were even chopping off parts of the building with chainsaws! A deal has since been worked out.

And unfortunately, as the New York Times reported, the cold won’t kill pests like bed bugs or ticks, so no upside there.

Bomb Cyclone Extreme Weather By the Numbers

As I mentioned, a storm has to drop 24 millibars in 24 hours or less to be considered a bomb cyclone. The most recent storm, nicknamed Grayson, dropped 59 millibars in 24 hours. That placed it among the most people storms to ever his the East Coast.

It snowed 0.1 inches in Tallahassee, the firs time the city has seen snow in 28 years. It also accumulated a few inches in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. This made them some of the snowiest days on record. Additionally:

  • Cape May, NJ got 17 inches.
  • Boston, MA got 13.2 inches.
  • Atlantic City got 14.2 inches.
  • Hartford, Connecticut got 10.2 inches.
  • Philadelphia got 4.1 inches.
  • New York City got 9.8 inches and
  • Bangor, ME got 18.3 inches!

Winds topped 106 mph in Grand Etanq, Nova Scotia. They were higher than 50mph in much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

And Boston hit its highest water level on record. And don’t forget the freezing cold!

Bomb Cyclones of the Past

The 1993 Superstorm, which was also known as the Storm of the Century. It produced an absolute blizzard over much of the eastern U.S. It’s one of the most memorable examples of a bomb cyclone. That storm dropped 33 millibars in 24 hours.

The infamous White Hurricane bombed the Great Lakes in 1913. Before it was over, it would sink more than a dozen ship and kill more than 250 people.

And while not a winter example, tropical storms (bomb cyclones occur above the tropical line) can do the same. Hurricane Charley, noted for its devastation of southern Florida, dropped 23 millibars in 5 hours!

Looking Ahead at Extreme Weather

Hopefully this most recent bomb cyclone was the last time we’ll experience extreme weather for a while. Extreme weather of all kinds is dangerous, but sometimes an interesting or eye-catching name can push things overboard.

Like this article, check out our other Science or Technology Posts! (Here’s a cool one one that answers the question,  How Big is Space?).

Matt Cameron

About Matt Cameron

Hard-working, dedicated, and passionate are three traits that describe me. I've spent my entire life learning the skills that I need to be able to be a successful entrepreneur. Whether I'm doing work for my companies, or writing content for my blogs, I'm always giving it my best effort.

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