In essence, it refers to an explosive storm that quickly gathers strength.
Technically speaking, a bomb cyclone is a storm with extraordinarily low pressure, measured by a sharp drop in atmospheric pressure within a 24-hour time span. The result is extreme winds and heavy rain or snowfall.
These violent storms can knock down trees and power lines. They’re fueled by a column of air — similar to the eye of a hurricane — that rushes up into the atmosphere, leaving a void. Surrounding air whooshes in quickly to fill that void, creating wind speeds in excess of 60 mph.
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The storm has already begun to pick up speed. To learn what to expect from this storm and how it forms, we asked AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dave Samuhel to explain.
Samuhel: It’s basically when the surface pressure of the storm, measured in millibars, drops 24 millibars in 24 hours. Yesterday it was about 1005 millibars, and now it’s 971 millibars, so it has gone well past the criteria.
What changes as that pressure drops?
Samuhel: The winds just increase remarkably; 971 millibars, where this is right now, is equivalent to about a Category 3 hurricane. Of course, the pressure difference is over a much smaller distance in a hurricane — that’s why you get those much more intense winds. But certainly we’re seeing some very high winds across a huge region. It’s gusting over 60 mph in Scottsbluff (Nebraska).
What are the chief concerns with a storm like this?
Samuhel: The wind is probably the big concern, but this storm is also producing a lot of snow on the north side of it. There’s automatic blizzard conditions thanks to these high winds. You have severe weather as well.
How common a phenomenon is bombogenesis?
Samuhel: To this magnitude, not very often. It’s right around the record low pressure levels for Kansas and Colorado. We probably see something like this once a year somewhere in the country.
What should people be doing to brace for this storm?
Samuhel: In western parts of (Nebraska), it’s life-threatening with blizzard conditions and winds up to 60 mph. It’s just a complete whiteout. At least there’s not extreme cold with this storm, but it’s cold enough. With winds this strong, you’re going to have a lot of trees coming down.
How will the storm manifest in different parts of the state?
Samuhel: Fortunately, in Omaha, the effects aren’t going to be as bad as they will be in western parts of the state. That’s more to the west. They’re just going to get crushed out there. Upwards of a foot of snow should easily occur out there. Northwestern Nebraska looks to get as much snowfall as anybody out of this storm. Wind could be as high as 70 before this storm is done.
Some answers have been shortened for length and clarity.
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March 23, 1913: Omaha Easter tornado
An estimated 103 people were killed and 350 injured in the Omaha area when the tornado struck with no warning on a warm Easter Sunday. About 750 of Omaha’s more than 2,000 damaged houses were destroyed. The tornado — now categorized by the National Weather Service as an F4 storm with 166- to 200-mph winds — was part of the most catastrophic outbreak of tornadoes in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa history. More photos.
Here, people stand at 2410 Lake St. after the tornado.
Nebraskans experienced the worst of the Dust Bowl in July 1936. The state experienced scorching heat, with Omaha hitting 114 degrees. The city recorded 35 days that year with temperatures of 100 degrees or higher. Air conditioning was not yet common and people slept outdoors to catch a breeze.
Here, a dust storm approaches Naponee, Nebraska, in 1935. The large building is the First Congregational Church.
One of the worst blizzards on record suffocated all but southeast Nebraska. The region’s economy teetered on the edge of collapse as ceaseless winds and fresh snow defied efforts to keep roads and rail lines clear. Livestock by the tens of thousands died of starvation and exposure. Whole towns rationed food, and some residents burned furniture for household fuel.
Here, Vincent McKeown stands beside his car in a 20-foot deep snow canyon made by plows on Highway 275 10 miles west of Norfolk, Nebraska.
Melting from a heavy winter snowfall led to widespread flooding across eastern Nebraska. Rivers were already swollen when rain, followed by up to 9 inches of snow, swept the area April 1.
Here, H.H. Lallman (foreground), 71, chats with Chris Martinsen, 77 and Johanna Keilstrup in Winslow, Nebraska during Elkhorn River flooding.
Jan. 10-11, 1975: Blizzard
The storm raged across eastern Nebraska and caused deaths in five states. Omaha had just an inch of snow on the ground at 6 a.m. Jan. 10, but by 9 a.m. the city had declared a snow emergency. At one point an estimated 10,000 vehicles were stuck, stalled or abandoned in Omaha. Winds reached 60 mph, creating drifts as high as 10 feet. More than a foot of snow fell. More photos.
Seen here are vehicles stalled on 72nd Street south of Dodge.
May 6, 1975: Omaha tornado
An F4 tornado with winds of more than 200 mph tore through a nine-mile-long section of Omaha, killing three people and injuring more than 100. Early detection, aided by storm spotters, helped prevent greater loss of life. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2013 ranked the damage as the eighth worst tornado in U.S. history at an inflation-adjusted cost of more than $1 billion. Read more.
Here, an aerial view of the Westgate area is seen on May 7, 1975.
Oct. 26, 1997: Early snowstorm
Heavy, wet snow fell on still-leafy trees across southeastern Nebraska, resulting in downed tees, limbs and power lines. Streets were blocked, and houses and cars were damaged. The storm killed an estimated 3 percent of the Omaha-area’s trees and damaged another 30 to 35 percent. More photos.
Seen here is a snow-covered street and crushed trees near Miller Park in Omaha on Oct. 26, 1997.
June 22, 2003: Super-sized hailstone
Aric Brophy, left, of Aurora, Nebraska, raced outdoors to retrieve a hailstone and impress his kids. He came back with the then-largest hailstone on record for the U.S.: 7 inches across and 18.75 inches around.
Summer 2011: Missouri River flooding
Heavy snowmelt and record spring rains in the upper part of the Missouri River watershed overwhelmed levees and imperiled the six massive dams that control the Missouri’s flow. Flooding lasted four months and caused billions of dollars in damage.
U.S. Highway 136 is seen here running east of Brownville, Nebraska, over the Missouri River channel and into flooded Missouri farmland on July 15, 2011.
Aug. 4, 2016: Lake Manawa waterspout
A long and lanky waterspout formed over Lake Manawa about 5:30 p.m., mesmerizing the many people in the metro area who saw it. After waltzing on the lake for 10 minutes or so, it broke apart. A spectacular sight, the tornado was harmless, because it had anchored itself to the lake. Had it not occurred in a populated area, the waterspout’s existence would have gone unrecorded. That’s because it was a rare tornado that formed independent of a supercell thunderstorm. It was so weak and out of place that it didn’t show up on radar, nor did it leave a trail of damage. More photos.
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