Ask Ellen: What is a ‘bomb cyclone’?


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You may be hearing the term “bomb cyclone” being thrown around in regards to Sunday’s storm. It’s a real thing, and a term meteorologists use to describe a certain type of storm. 

The strongest storms on the planet are the ones with the lowest pressure. Areas of low pressure draw wind into them rapidly. Pressure readings help meteorologists determine how strong a storm will be, and how strong the wind will be that it can generate.

A “bomb cyclone” is a storm system in the mid-latitudes (basically where we live in the United States, outside of the tropics) that drops in pressure by 24mb in 24 hours. 

The storm headed our way Sunday is expected to do that. 

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Look at this first graphic. I put the “isobars” on, which are the black lines. The lines are drawn to represent areas of equal pressure. Basically, you just need to know the more lines there are around the storm, the lower the pressure, and the stronger it is considered to be.

Here is the storm on Saturday at 7 a.m. when the center is still in the plains. At that time, the central pressure should be around 1004 mb. 

By Sunday morning, the storm center will have zoomed north of Michigan as the system rapidly intensifies. At that time, the central pressure is projected to be 980 mb. 

When the black lines of equal pressure are that packed together, it means we will see strong winds. Currently, we are expecting sustained winds of 30 to 35 mph with gusts of 50 to 60 mph possible because this storm could “bomb” out. 

If it does undergo this rapid intensification, it will be considered a “bomb cyclone” and we will likely have to pick up a lot of sticks or even branches  from our yards in its wake. 

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