What’s a ‘bomb cyclone’? Is that a real thing?

Arctic air to blast US, including Florida

Arctic blast

ORLANDO, Fla. – Thundersnow, polar vortex, bomb cyclone? Are these legitimate meteorological terms, and if so, what do they mean?

With Arctic air blasting the United States ahead of Christmas, many are reading the term “bomb cyclone” in reference to the weather event and wondering what it is -- or if it’s real.

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Meteorologists have used the term “bomb” for storms for decades, based on a strict definition, said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado.

“Bombogenesis is the technical term. Bomb cyclone is a shortened version of it, better for social media,” said meteorologist Ryan Maue, who helped popularize the term polar vortex in 2014.

“The actual impacts aren’t going to be a bomb at all,” Maue said. “There’s nothing exploding or detonating.”

Storm intensity is measured by central pressure -- the lower the pressure, the stronger. A storm is considered a “bomb” when the pressure drops rapidly -- at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.

Bomb cyclones draw air from polar regions after they leave. In this case, it means extra cold Arctic air because of where the polar vortex is, Furtado said.

Worldwide, about 40 to 50 “bomb cyclones” brew each year, but most are over the open ocean and nobody but weather geeks notice, Maue said.

“We use the term bomb,” Furtado said. “We know what it means, but I do think it gets a little hyped up.”

As for polar vortex and thundersnow, they are defined as:

Polar vortex: A large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. The term “vortex” refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the poles. There is no cause to be alarmed when you hear the term “polar vortex,” but you should be prepared for colder temperatures.

Thundersnow: As it sounds, the term refers to thunder and lightning occurring during a snowstorm. Thundersnow can be more dangerous than a traditional thunderstorm, as the snow can affect visibility and conduct lightning strikes more efficiently.

Stay warm out there!

About the Author:

Daniel started with WKMG-TV in 2000 and became the digital content manager in 2009. When he's not working on ClickOrlando.com, Daniel likes to head to the beach or find a sporting event nearby.