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What You *Really* Need to Know about the Winter Storm Everyone is Talking About (the “Bomb Cyclone”)

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In the early-to-mid nineties, the term “bomb” was slang for something that was awesome or really cool. Now, all my “fellow kids” are using it (and other flowery terms) to describe what is a rapidly intensifying nor’easter: the “bomb cyclone.”

According to the National Weather Service, a nor’easter is:

“A strong low pressure system that affects the Mid-Atlantic and New England States. It can form over land or over the coastal waters. These winter weather events are notorious for producing heavy snow, rain, and tremendous waves that crash onto Atlantic beaches, often causing beach erosion and structural damage. Wind gusts associated with these storms can exceed hurricane force in intensity. A nor'easter gets its name from the continuously strong northeasterly winds blowing in from the ocean ahead of the storm and over the coastal areas.”1

What makes this one special is its rapid intensification. That’s where the “bomb” part of the name comes in. Rather than using the term to describe something awesome or super cool, there’s actually a scientific implication of it; as according to the National Weather Service it’s “a popular expression of a rapid intensification of a cyclone (low pressure) with surface pressure expected to fall by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.”2

Maps of this “bomb” storm have been intense and slightly frightening for areas that don’t see a lot of snow, including areas of Florida and Georgia that are now seeing some of their first flakes in decades. (If you check the stats for Savannah, Georgia, it’s absolutely fascinating.) For weather nerds and “wonks” out there, it’s an absolute marvel. A storm intensifying at this rate and to this magnitude is almost unheard of.

This storm is forecast to cause “hazardous winter travel conditions from the Southeast to New England through Friday” and the bitter cold many areas have been experiencing will continue.3 Some areas in the southern areas of the Eastern Seaboard including Virginia Beach are predicted to get six to twelve inches of snow, and areas farther north into New England are anticipated to get more. Snow in areas that don’t normally see it can be dangerous.

However, our advice, regardless of how intense this storm gets and how far south it reaches, always remains the same. Being ready for a winter storm (or a nor’easter or even a “bomb cyclone”) is crucial. It’s the perennial same, stock up on the staples: salt for walkways and non-perishable food items, gasoline for your car. Make sure your shovels or snowblowers are in good working order, check on your neighbors, particularly if they’re older—it’s a good opportunity to make friends and share a mug of hot cocoa.

If you have to go outside in the storm, make sure you’re wearing adequately warm clothing; college hoodies and sneakers won’t cut it in these temperatures. If you are shoveling snow, please be careful and don’t overexert yourself. Many people end up injured from snow-clearing-related items including shoveling and falling on slippery sidewalks. (Cat litter or road salt can help alleviate some of the slipperiness and many recommend waddling along like a penguin to help avoid slippage.)

Power outages can happen during winter storms as tree limbs can snap and fall on power lines and car accidents can take out poles (if you’re driving, do so slowly; black ice is hard to spot and very dangerous).

And one extra important note—if you still have a real Christmas tree up in your house, make sure any space heaters or candles (in case of the aforementioned power outages—even though flashlights are better and safer) stay far away from the tree as they are serious fire hazards. (And don’t worry—we don’t judge decorations still being up.)

Our biggest piece of advice and our most fervent hope is that people will stay safe. The biting cold may have been enough for some people, but with snow on top of it, it’s a recipe for staying in with some bomb hot chocolate or tea.

 

For more information on how to stay safe, check out Ready.gov.

 

Sources:

  1. National Weather Service Glossary: “Nor’easter”
  2. National Weather Service Glossary: “Bomb”
  3. National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center Short Range Public Discussion (Published 2:42EST Wednesday, January 03, 2018)
Last Updated: 
01/05/2018 - 09:46

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