NewsWorldWhat is a bomb cyclone?

What is a bomb cyclone?

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(CNN) — Bomb. It’s not a word you can say on a plane (remember Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents?). You should also be careful when using it to describe a storm system.

You probably hear the phrase “bomb cyclone” come up from time to time in weather stories. This is what it means:

What makes a storm a bomb cyclone?

• Bomb cyclone is a term given to a storm that gets stronger quickly and meets an important criterion.
• Generally, the pressure should drop 24 millibars (a unit of pressure) in a 24 hour period.
• However, that benchmark is also based on the storm latitude. So the millibar requirement can change depending on where the storm forms.

But why is it called that?

The term bomb cyclone dates back to a meteorological research article published in a 1980 issue of Monthly Weather Review.

Its authors, MIT meteorologists Fred Sanders and John Gyakum, built on the work of Swedish meteorology researcher Tor Bergeron, who initially defined “rapidly deepening” storms as those that met the 24-millibar criterion in 24 hours.

But Bergeron was in Scandinavia, where storms get stronger much faster due to latitude (remember the Coriolis effect?).

Sanders and Gyakum adjusted the ground rules to vary by latitude. And they added the term “bomb” because of the explosive power these storms derive from rapid pressure drops (although, according to reports, Gyakum no longer uses that word due to its reference to weaponry).

How do you adjust the rules?

Since you’ve read this far, we feel compelled to give you the real equation (and if you love it, maybe you should consider a career in meteorology!).

To calculate the pressure drop needed for a bomb cyclone, take the sine of the latitude where the low pressure is and divide it by the sine of 60 degrees (and you thought you’d never use trigonometry…).

Why 60 degrees? That is the latitude where Bergeron was when he developed the initial scale.

Once you do the math, multiply that result by 24, and that’s the number of millibars the storm’s pressure must drop to officially qualify as a bomb cyclone at the given latitude.

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