niagara falls freezing polar vortex

  • Bomb cyclone, explosive bombogenesis, and polar vortex are real meteorological terms.
  • But the weather phenomena they describe aren’t as uncommon as the words might suggest — there are probably 40-50 storms in the northern hemisphere that qualify as bombs every year.
  • The cold air brought by the polar vortex is a real reason to be concerned.

A “bomb cyclone” is headed for the Northeast.

If you’re wondering whether that term was only created to make you pay attention to the weather, you’re not alone.

But “bomb cyclone” is a real meteorological term — as are the “explosive bombogenesis” and “polar vortex” coming along with this storm. Those names can make the phenomena sound more intense than the normal (though still potentially dangerous) winter events they describe. But the cold that comes with the polar vortex is no joke.

The term bomb cyclone dates back to a 1980 paper by Frederick Sanders and John Gyakum, which described the phenomenon as a “bomb.” That sounds dramatic, but it actually refers to an extratropical surface cyclone: a storm occurring outside of tropics, usually between 30 and 60 degrees latitude if it happens in the Northern Hemisphere, whose central pressure falls at least 24 millibars over a 24-hour period.

Central pressure is the measure of how much the atmosphere in the middle of a storm weighs, and it’s one of the key indicators of any cyclone’s intensity. The lower the air pressure in the middle of the storm, the more intense that cyclone is. Normal air pressure is about 1010 millibars; when central pressure is lower than that, things become more turbulent, with more air movement and wind kicking up.

This particular storm looks like it’s going to be intense, potentially dropping 45 millibars in 24 hours.