What is a bomb cyclone? This extreme weather event is here to stay

Here’s a quick refresher on this week’s weather event in the Northeast United States: A storm dubbed a bomb cyclone will wallop parts of the country for three days.

Here are some things to know about it.

First, an explanation. What is a bomb cyclone? According to National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Maue, these are cyclones that form over terrain, which make them stronger than storm systems.

“The term ‘bomb cyclone’ is used to describe an extremely low pressure system,” says weather services meteorologist Ryan Maue of the WeatherBell Analytics.

“The term ‘bomb cyclone’ is used to describe an extremely low pressure system,” says Maue. Lower pressure is more powerful, he explained, because it creates stronger winds.

Earlier this week, the center of the storm moved over the Canadian Maritimes, where strong winds snapped transmission poles and downed trees and power lines, cutting power to hundreds of thousands of customers, Maue said. That storm, called a bomb cyclone, was part of the now-retiring El Niño event, and thus stronger.

As such, “if the previous in-development systems were considered to have been ‘upside down,’ this system would have been flipped to ‘downside down,’” Maue said.

But a bomb cyclone that centers over the same part of the country twice isn’t a first. “In fact, this event is the sixth documented in recorded U.S. history and the third in the past 60 years,” Maue said. In 1955, an all-time record came when a bomb cyclone developed over the Florida Peninsula and then spun up over the Washington, D.C., area. The storm caused deadly tornadoes and winds that reached 145 mph in the capital city. The intense winds tore through homes, flipped vehicles, demolished trees and smashed office towers.

Scientists and forecasters have said bomb cyclones are extreme, which makes them hard to predict.

The storm hit North Carolina on Wednesday.

Upside down?


Climate scientists have learned since 1950 that about 20 percent of tornadoes also develop as this severe force.

While that figure is tiny, a number of tornado experts said they think we could see more of these dangerous storms in the future. Because, when you compare these storms to the everyday rain storms we’re experiencing today, many climate scientists agree that the weather here is increasing in severity.

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