What are Bomb Cyclones

bomb cyclone
Photo credit: phys.org

Explosive cyclogenesis, also known as a ‘bomb cyclone’, is a stunning meteorological phenomenon that occurs when an extratropical cyclonic low-pressure area rapidly deepens. This natural event can cause extreme weather in the affected region and has become a popular buzzword among weather enthusiasts and scientists alike. The process of explosive cyclogenesis is an intricate one that has only been studied over the last few decades; however, its effects have been known for centuries.

The history of the “Bombs”

Throughout the 1950s, meteorologists at the Bergen School of Meteorology made a remarkable discovery: some storms that grew over the sea had intense energy and power that was rarely seen on land. To recognize these unique phenomena, they started calling them “bombs” due to their explosive nature. This was an informal moniker, but one that accurately reflects how powerful and unpredictable these storms were – and still are today.

The term “meteorological bombs” was first coined in the 1970s by Fred Sanders, the esteemed professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As a leading authority on meteorology, Professor Sanders brought this term into popular usage with his 1980 article published in the Monthly Weather Review. The article discussed what is known as ‘explosive cyclogenesis’, and how it affects weather systems.

In October 2010, an extraordinary weather event occurred: a phenomenon known as bombogenesis created an unusual system that stretched across 31 states in the United States and six Canadian provinces. To put this storm into perspective, it achieved the strength of a Category 3 hurricane. Severe weather warnings included tornadoes, blustery blizzards, powerful gales, wind-driven rains, heavy snows and thunderstorms.

As the storm moved across Canada, it left a significant impact in its wake. Manitoba was hit particularly hard by the severe weather conditions, and Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba, experienced an “all-time record for its lowest-ever barometric pressure.”

In early 2014 in the North Atlantic, fourteen wind events out of twenty that had reached hurricane-force, underwent bombogenesis, the process that creates a bomb cyclone, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA announced the definition of bombogenesis, a weather phenomenon in which a midlatitude cyclone rapidly intensifies. NOAA defines bombogenesis as an event in which the pressure drops at least 24 millibars over 24 hours.

December 2022 Bomb Cyclone

The term “bomb cyclone” is a fitting description for the rapidly intensifying winter storm that developed near the Great Lakes in late December 2022. It brought intense weather conditions to many regions of North America, particularly the Midwest, Northeast and Atlantic Seaboard. With gusts reaching up to 70 mph in some areas, high winds caused widespread downed trees and power outages. Temperatures also took a dive throughout these regions as Arctic air from Canada flooded southward into the United States. Freezing rain mixed with snow created hazardous road conditions for drivers and pedestrians alike. 

It reached the criteria to be classified as bombogenesis when the atmospheric pressure dropped 24 millibars within 24 hours.

The bomb cyclone even reached as far south as Florida, bringing an unusual cold snap to this usually warm region. Thankfully, temperatures began warming after several days with no end to this powerful winter storm yet in sight!

The extent of destruction and power outages that were caused due to the storm are still being calculated. Reports from some of the affected states such as Florida, Texas, Alabama and Georgia show extreme flooding, collapsed homes and roofs due to heavy wind gusts as well as frozen roadways in some parts. Numerous people have been forced to evacuate their homes due to safety concerns while millions more have been left without power or running water for an extended period. It affected about 60% of the population

The four most active regions where extratropical explosive cyclogenesis occurs in the world are the Northwest Pacific, the North Atlantic, the Southwest Pacific, and the South Atlantic.


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