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What the heck is a bomb cyclone?

Satellite image of the Great Lakes

Updated 3/14/19: As a "bomb cyclone" prepares to hit parts of the upper Midwest, we're re-sharing this explainer about what a bomb cyclone is exactly.

Original Post: Parts of Michigan could experience winds up to 50 miles per hour this weekend, thanks to a weather phenomenon called explosive cyclogenesis. You might have heard it called a bomb cyclone or bombogenesis in other media and weather reports.

But what exactly is a bomb cyclone? The National Weather Service describes it as a "popular expression of a rapid intensification of a cyclone (low pressure) with surface pressure expected to fall by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours." Or in simpler terms, a low pressure area (storm) that rapidly strengthens. 

How did it get its name? According to AccuWeather, "all storms are cyclones," and genesis refers to the beginning. The explosive nature of the storm gives a slight hint as to how "bomb" became part of the nomenclature. Typically events like bombogenisis are maritime, and happen most prominently in cold weather. 

The Washington Post explained how a bomb cyclone works when the East Coast experienced one early last year:

When a storm strengthens this quickly, it’s a signal of how much air is being drawn into the storm’s circulation. It then spirals inward toward the center, rises and exits through the top. If more air is leaving the storm than is sucked inward, the pressure falls even more and the system will continue to grow.

AccuWeather also created this helpful video to understand how everything comes together to form, literally, the perfect storm: 

So what should you be on the lookout for? The National Weather Service has issued a high wind watch from Sunday morning into Sunday night. Michiganders can expect winds up to 50 mph, with the potential for gusts up to 60 mph. Some areas will likely experience rain and potentially snow.

With the high wind comes the potential for downed tree limbs and power lines, so scattered power outages are possible. If you can, charge electronics, have flashlights handy, and prepare just in case you do lose power. If you have any objects outdoors, it might be wise to bring them inside or secure them. 

Jodi is Michigan Radio’s Director of Digital Audiences, leading and developing the station’s overall digital strategy.
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