It could be even worse than the ‘Bomb Cyclone’


A major nor’easter is taking aim at the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, bringing an array of life-threatening hazards, from hurricane-force winds to record-breaking coastal flooding. Based on current forecasts, it’s clear that this storm is likely to be more damaging than the so-called “Bomb Cyclone” that struck in early January. 

Technically, the storm, like many winter storms in the Northern Hemisphere, will rapidly intensify once it gets going on Thursday night and Friday morning. During the course of 24 hours, its minimum central air pressure — a key measure of the storm’s intensity — is expected to plummet by more than 24 millibars. This would be sufficient to qualify the storm as undergoing a process known as bombogenesis (which, incidentally would also make a great heavy metal band name). 

By that standard, one could also call this storm a “bomb,” or even a “bomb cyclone.” Some media outlets, like CNN, Mother Jones, and AccuWeather, are doing just that in their headlines, thereby reprising the name used for the fastest-intensifying winter storm ever observed off the East Coast.

But there are major problems with this using this nomenclature in headlines about this storm. 

Computer model projection of sea level pressure and low-level wind speeds on March 2, 2018.

When facing a major storm threat, it’s important that the public focuses on the hazards they are likely to face. This storm is going to have a broader, more damaging footprint across a larger amount of real estate than the “Bomb Cyclone” did in January.

Power outages from this storm, for example, are likely to spread from the Washington, D.C., area, northward to upstate New York, and eastward to Boston.  

In addition, many of the other impacts from this storm will exceed those of the January 4 storm, particularly when it comes to coastal flooding. 

The National Weather Service forecast office in Boston is using dire language to warn people of the flood threat, noting that this is a “LIFE-THREATENING SITUATION” along the coast, where record flooding is likely from a combination of high astronomical tides, a 3-to-5-foot storm surge, and towering waves up to 35 feet high just offshore.

The National Weather Service expects seas that may exceed 15.3 feet at the Boston Harbor tidal gauge, which would be an all-time record, beating the one set during the Jan. 4 “Bomb Cyclone” by about 2 inches. 

Mashable was one of the first media outlets (along with the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang) to call the exceptional nor’easter in early January the “Bomb Cyclone.” The storm dumped heavy snow across Southern New England, and set a record for the highest-recorded water level in Boston.

The setup for this storm looks far worse, in part because it is going to be traveling slowly, exposing the Massachusetts coastline to major coastal flooding during at least three tide cycles, whereas the “Bomb Cyclone” was moving quickly when it struck. 

Another aspect of this storm that is different, and potentially far more destructive, is the type of snow it will produce. The “Bomb Cyclone” had plenty of Arctic air to work with, making the snow that fell on New England light and fluffy. This storm, however, will dump pasty, wet cement-like snow on upstate New York, and the higher elevations of Connecticut and Massachusetts. The weight of such snow on tree limbs and power lines tends to cause significant power outages. 

The bottom line is that if the media were to call this upcoming storm another “Bomb Cyclone,” as other outlets are starting to do, we would run the risk of confusing readers into thinking that the impacts of the storm and its characteristics will be the same. 

In many ways — from coastal flooding to the storm’s wind and wave field, as well as the power outage footprint — this upcoming storm will be worse. Using the Internet-friendly “Bomb Cyclone” moniker here would be to the detriment of public understanding of this weather phenomenon. 

Yes, this storm will undergo bombogenesis. Yes, you could call it a “bomb.” But it will likely end up being remembered for being even more damaging than the January storm. 

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