Blizzard-like ‘bomb cyclones’ are boosted by warming oceans

Warming ocean waters due to climate change are creating ideal conditions for more “bomb cyclone” events like the one that hit the northeast with extreme winter conditions in late January, experts say.

The storm brought 23.6 inches of snow to the Boston area, tying its single-day snowfall record, and killed at least four people in Long Island, NY Across Massachusetts, nearly 9,000 customers were left without power for the rest of the weekend.

A bomb cyclone, also known as an explosive cyclogenesis, is formed by the air near the planet’s surface rising rapidly, causing the barometric pressure to drop. The lower pressure is generally directly proportional to the intensity of the storm.

Climatologists say that while it’s unclear whether climate change is driving more storms and hurricanes, it’s likely correlated with more intense storms. Barry Keim, a University of Louisiana climatologist who is also a state climatologist, said there is likely a similar dynamic with bomb cyclones.

“It’s a bit like the rapid intensification of a hurricane. It’s the same basic type of phenomenon, except it’s not hurricanes. In this case, we are not dealing with tropical cyclones, but what we call extratropical cyclones,” Keim told The Hill.

The direct relationship between climate change and explosive cyclogenesis deserves further study, Keim said, but by definition, rising ocean temperatures increase the conditions for more intense bomb cyclones.

“Overall…the oceans are warming,” Keim said, adding that warming surface temperatures can fuel bomb cyclones in the form of “Arctic intrusion of air pouring out of Canada into the ocean.” eastern United States, and [you] that it gradually drifts to the East Coast” where it “begins[s] interact with this incredibly warm humid air.

This contrast, he said, is “the perfect setup” for events like last weekend’s bomb cyclone.

“When you have a warmer ocean, it’s perfectly reasonable to think northeasters could be more intense,” said Justin Mankin, an assistant professor at Dartmouth College who specializes in climate variability and dynamics.

“This [human] the activity that created these conditions – where more heat is being sucked out of the oceans – provides fuel for these types of weather events,” he said.

Another factor is water vapor, which can produce wetter storms, noted Tom Di Liberto, a meteorologist and climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The warmer the ocean water, it means more water vapor can enter the storm, making those storms potentially wetter,” he said.

The behavior of bomb cyclones can be more difficult to predict because they can generally form in a wider variety of settings than hurricanes.

While hurricanes typically form in warm oceans, bomb cyclones have been known to form inland as well, as in the case of a 2019 storm that hit the Midwest and Northern Plains. .

Keim noted that the most recent storm could easily have been almost entirely over the ocean rather than along the coast if its track had varied slightly.

Although resilience planning has largely focused on extreme heat risks, the impact of the weather that hit the northeast illustrates the risks that come with a combination of higher sea levels and extreme winter conditions.

Indeed, coastal communities in the bomb cyclone’s path, such as Cape Cod, saw not only ice and snow, but also flooding from waves crashing over levees. A 32-foot wave was recorded off Gloucester, Mass., the starting point of a lost commercial fishing vessel during the “perfect storm” of 1991.

Di Liberto noted that some aspects of the relationship between climate change and bomb cyclone conditions remain a point of contention within the scientific community.

One such debate, he said, is whether the warming Arctic is directly influencing “the jet stream through the mid-latitudes where we all live” that could directly affect storms. like January.

“Some people are in the camp that thinks Arctic warming might have its influence and others say we can’t tell right now and maybe not,” he said.

Di Liberto added that while extreme winter weather is frequently and incorrectly cited as evidence that warming isn’t happening, warming temperatures don’t prevent weather events like the Bomb Cyclone.

“We still expect torrential rains even in a warming world,” he said. “The question is whether you can bring some of that cold air down to make the temperatures cold enough for snow. It is therefore quite normal to experience an occasional snowstorm, even in a warming world.

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