What is a bomb cyclone? Satellite pictures show scale of frozen storm

A deadly bomb cyclone has been bringing chaos to the north-east US this week, with a state of emergency declared in four states following mass disruption to power and transport infrastructures.

What is a bomb cyclone? Satellite pictures show scale of frozen storm

While ground-level reports from the winter storm have been devastating, with up to 17 deaths linked to the weather conditions, satellite imagery reveals the sheer scale of the cyclone.

Captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) GOES-East satellite, the images show bomb cyclone hitting the east coast of the US where it has been dumping snow and flooding coastal locations with storm surges and wind speeds exceeding 60mph. It has even led to reports of frozen sharks washing up dead on beaches, and iguanas raining from trees in Florida.


You can follow live updates from GOES-East here. The satellite was launched in 2016 and is used by weather forecasters to get a precise view on storms and severe weather across the globe. A number of the images show the cyclone sprawling the entire length of the US.

“The powerful nor’easter is battering coastal areas with heavy snow and strong winds, from Florida to Maine,” NASA officials wrote in one image description. “Notice the long line of clouds stretching over a thousand miles south of the storm, which is drawing moisture all the way from deep in the Caribbean.”

In December, the jet stream pulled a polar vortex down towards the US. This has now met a cyclone of warmer air coming from the Atlantic Ocean, rapidly lowering its central pressure.  The National Weather Service has issued a freeze warning for parts of South Florida, with the cyclone expected to continue into the weekend.

What is a bomb cyclone?

According to the NOAA, a bomb cyclone (also known as a “bombogenesis”) is a particular type of storm that rapidly intensifies because its low pressure has dropped at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.

This tends to happen when a mass of cold air collides with a mass of warm air, as is the case with the current bomb cyclone in the US. In that case, cold air from the Arctic has clashed with warm air from the Atlantic, causing the weather system to rapidly strengthen, meaning storm winds spin faster and faster.

They are not a new phenomenon. The east coast of the US has faced a number of bomb cyclones in the past, including one as recent as February 2017 which led to eight inches of snow.  

Image credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

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