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'Bomb Cyclone' About to Slam the East Coast

Wild weather system may impact a region from Florida to Maine

icicles on a fountain with a palm tree in the background

John Fitzhugh/The Sun Herald via AP

A massive storm system is expected to slam much of the East Coast with messy, dangerous conditions.

A massive “bombogenesis” — an area of rapidly declining low pressure — could pound the weather-weary Northeast this week, bringing hurricane-force wind gusts to a region already enveloped by a crippling deep freeze.

The winter storm is expected to impact a region from Florida to Maine on Thursday and Friday, bringing not only strong winds, but also ice, rain, snow and sleet.

With dozens of flights already canceled across the Southeast on Wednesday, airlines such as Delta, American and Southwest are waiving fees for passengers who want to change their travel dates.

The bombogenesis will turn into an ominous-sounding “bomb cyclone,” which is defined by meteorologists as a very specific and dramatic drop in atmospheric pressure — 24 millibars over 24 hours. (A millibar is a way of measuring pressure.) The lower the pressure, the more severe the storm. The result? Six to 12 inches of snow could fall throughout parts of New England, and winds could whip at hurricane-force strength this week.

As Vox, the online news site, pointed out: The bomb cyclone isn’t really a “winter hurricane” — since hurricanes feed off warm water — but rather a really bad storm with good branding. Whereas winter storms with hurricane-force winds aren’t all that unusual, it’s the length of time the strikingly bitter cold has stuck around in many parts of the country that is tying already chilled-to-the-bone residents up in knots.

In just the last week of December, for example, more than 1,600 daily records for cold were either tied or shattered, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On Tuesday, Boston tied its seven-day record for the most consecutive days at or below 20 degrees that was set a century ago. Omaha, Neb., also broke a 133-year-old record this week — with temperatures at 15 below zero on Sunday.

At Niagara Falls, the frigid weather already has caused the waters on the Canadian side to freeze. Fountains — such as the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain in Bryant Park in New York City — also have frozen.  At the same time, many schools along the Eastern Seaboard have canceled classes this week due to the cold.

Even the South hasn’t been immune, with temperatures dipping to 26 degrees in New Orleans and freezing rain and ice closing stretches of highway in northern Florida on Tuesday.

The coldest morning for the Northeast could come on Saturday, with wind chills near minus 50 degrees in northern New York and well below zero along the Interstate-95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston.

As a result, weather forecasters have been mentioning terms such as “arctic” and “vortex” in an effort to describe the frosty blast.

When it comes to the term “bomb,” Fred Sanders, a retired MIT professor, told USA Today that meteorologists have been informally using the term to describe big coastal storms since the 1940s.

Just how destructive the current storm will be depends on its trajectory. The good news, though, is that the worst conditions should stay well out over the ocean, according to current projections.

Even so, at least 11 deaths already have been attributed to the cold weather as of Tuesday morning. One of them was a 27-year-old woman who was found on the shore of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. Authorities say Lindsey Klima most likely succumbed to the cold after stepping outside a New Year’s Eve gathering to smoke a cigarette and then possibly falling at the shoreline, CNN affiliate WLUK reported.

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