What Is a Winter Bomb Cyclone?

It may sound like something out of science fiction, but winter bomb cyclones are a very real type of weather event that can cause significant disruptions as they chill you to the bone. They can affect millions of people across the country. Still, many aren’t quite sure exactly what the term really means. 

So bundle up as we explore what winter bomb cyclones are. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe and comfortable. 

What Is a Winter Bomb Cyclone?

A winter bomb cyclone is a weather phenomenon that results from rapidly dropping pressure within a storm or weather pattern. Known scientifically as “explosive cyclogenesis” or “bombogenesis,” they come into existence when atmospheric pressure drops more than 24 millibars in 24 hours. 

They’re known for producing heavy rain or snow, high winds, rapidly dropping temperatures, and other potentially dangerous weather conditions. 

A city scape covered in ice and snow with dark clouds overhead.

What Happens During a Bomb Cyclone? 

Bomb cyclones occur when air close to ground level rapidly rises, causing the characteristic fall in pressure. As this air rises, winds begin to swirl.

That creates a cyclone effect similar in some ways to the more familiar tropical hurricanes. The faster and more sustained the rise of air is, the more powerful the storm will become. 

Bomb cyclones are known for rapidly intensifying, bringing extreme winter weather to expansive areas relatively quickly. In addition to actual bone-chilling temperatures, the “feels-like” temperatures will be significantly colder thanks to a frigid wind chill.

How Fast Is a Bomb Cyclone? 

When it comes to the winds produced by a winter bomb cyclone, the answer is quite fast! Wind speeds upwards of 60 miles per hour are typical.

Cars lined up a the highway during a winter storm.

Reaching 90 to 95 miles per hour isn’t unheard of. That’s equivalent to a strong Category 1 hurricane! 

How fast it moves will depend on a variety of atmospheric and climate conditions. It can quickly move through or linger and pound areas with snow and wind for days on end. 

Where Do Winter Bomb Cyclones Occur? 

Bomb cyclones are most commonly found in the middle to upper latitudes, unlike hurricanes. This is because these areas are most likely to have cold fronts and warm fronts meeting, creating the conditions for a cyclone to form.

As a result, they’re most often seen in the Pacific Northwest and the North Atlantic regions of the United States. 

See Buffalo buried in feet of snow after bomb cyclone.

In the last days of December 2022, a winter bomb cyclone descended upon the northeast of the United States, resulting in at least 64 deaths in subzero temperatures. The winter bomb lashed Buffalo, N.Y., leaving millions of residents in widespread power outages and approximately 50 inches of snow. This made it one of Buffalo’s deadliest winter storms.

Is It Rare to Have a Winter Bomb Cyclone? 

While they’re not an everyday occurrence, winter bomb cyclones are by no means rare. Several weather systems per year fit the technical definition of bombogenesis, though only the most powerful and impactful tend to grab the average person’s attention. 

This is particularly true in recent years when winter bomb cyclones have brought life-threatening cold and historic blizzards to some of the country’s most populated regions. 

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How Do You Prepare for a Winter Bomb Cyclone? 

In short, bundle up and stock up! Winter bomb cyclones typically bring frigid temperatures and high winds that make it feel even chillier — often well below zero. This means you should stay indoors as much as possible, limiting your time outside to essential travel. 

You’ll also need to bundle up with plenty of extra layers to protect from the extreme cold, which can often lead to frostbite far faster than usual. 

A couple looks out the windows in their home at a snow covered landscape.

Crucially, staying indoors means stocking up on a few days of supplies when you have enough advance notice. While there’s no need to hoard milk, bread, and toilet paper, it’s a good idea to grab a few days’ worth of food just in case. That mostly means food you can eat as-is in case strong winds or winter precipitation knock out your power. 

Beyond this, prepare as you would for any winter storm. Protect against frozen pipes, stock up on ice melt and fuel for a generator (if you have one), and ensure your windows and doors are sealed and insulated correctly. 

Are Winter Bomb Cyclones Dangerous? 

With a potent combination of low temperatures and often severe winter weather, there’s no doubt that winter bomb cyclones can pose a serious risk to the safety of those in their path. 

However, with some basic preparation and common sense, it’s easy to stay safe until the mercury begins to climb again. Limit your time outdoors to only the most essential trips, and stay indoors if snow or other precipitation makes travel unsafe. 

Take some time to stock up on food and water before the storm and prepare for the possibility of losing power during stormy periods. Most of all, stay warm and safe. Spring will be here before you know it!

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