Bomb cyclone: The crazy winter storm explained

Forecasters are warning the public about a serious bit of winter weather set to hit large parts of the US East Coast tomorrow, and it is accompanied by a scary-sounding name: bombogensis, AKA “Bomb cyclone.” The name inspires fear and mental images of a giant snowy tornado, but reality won’t be quite so dramatic. What, exactly, is a “bomb cyclone” and what should you expect on Thursday?

First things first, an over-simplified explanation of bombogenesis, AKA the bomb cyclone. No, this doesn’t refer to a wintry recreation of Twister, but instead changes in air pressure. A bomb cyclone occurs when the central pressure in a low pressure system experiences a drop of 24 millibars within a 24 hour period. In other words, it’s a technical term and it doesn’t really matter if you’re not a meteorologist or particularly interested in low pressure systems.

The name sounds exotic and dangerous, and therefore is a convenient way to feed the storm-hype machine. As with many storms, though, it’s not really unusual and it probably won’t be life-changing for you, though it could be a very strong storm. Simply put, it’s going to be cold tomorrow for those on the East Coast, particularly for people located further north, and there could be a lot of snow in places and it’ll be very windy.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should ignore the storm if you’re located in a place that will be affected by it. As mentioned, it is going to be very cold in many places in the North and on the East Coast tomorrow leading into the weekend and it’s important to be safe.

If you live in New England or the Great Lakes region, you’re probably already prepared for a winter storm, though the harsher storms don’t usually arrive until February. If you’re further south and less accustomed to inconvenient winter storms, now is the time to prepare. How?

Any storm can potentially knock out power, especially when there is ice and high winds involved, and that’s a serious issue if it is single-digit or sub-zero temperatures. Even if the power does stay on the entire time (which it probably will for most people), it’s still important to prepare. Have warm clothing and ample blankets ready to use in the event the power does go out.

Avoid going outside if you don’t have to, but if you do, make sure you dress very warmly. Be mindful of the wind chill, which can be quite a bit colder if the wind is blasting; a face mask is a necessity in cases like this. Don’t let dogs run out into the cold without a leash — they could be overcome with cold before returning and you may have trouble locating them if they disappear into the snow. Frozen pipes are another potential problem.

Keep in mind that an outside surface can be slippery even if it doesn’t appear to be iced over; it only takes a very slim layer of ice to ruin your day. As well, some cars may have trouble starting in such cold temperatures, so keep that in mind if you decide to make a trip to the store; no one wants to come back out to the car, only to find out that it won’t start. If you don’t have winter-ready tires on your car, it’s best not to drive at all.

The Red Cross has an entire section of its website dedicated to winter storm preparation, including before, during, and after the storm. If this is your first big winter storm, be sure to check it out.