Let’s nuke ‘bomb cyclone’

Many of America’s meteorologists won’t be happy until America is scared witless.

With the “bomb cyclone” working its way into the northeast today, there are some very happy weatherpeople.

“Bomb cyclone” is the newest phrase in weather, which achieved critical mass this week when the widely-read Capital Weather Gang in the Washington Post ran this headline:

“Bomb cyclone” is the new “polar vortex”, both phrases, pulled from the dusty books, ratcheting up the media hysteria. The Capital Weather Gang’s discovery and use of the phrase is believed to have sparked its newfound popularity.

The phrase isn’t new, though. It was invented by McGill University meteorology professor John Gyakum, who used it in a paper he wrote with an MIT meteorologist in 1980.

He dislikes the phrase now.

“When I talk about these explosively developing storms, I go through the trouble of mouthing the terms ‘explosively developing,’ and I don’t use ‘bomb,’” Gyakum told HuffPost. “It’s somewhat inappropriate when you consider other aspects of the world right now.”

Fred Sanders, Gyakum’s co-author of the 1980 paper, is believed to have first used the term in 1964, according to a former student.

Gyakum says although he doesn’t use the term anymore, he thinks it serves a purpose in a world where the language needs to escalate to maintain people’s attention.

“A lot of focus in coastal areas is on hurricanes in the summertime,” he said. “A lot of time during winter, people say it’s easy, the season is over, we don’t have to worry about hurricane-force winds. But a place like Hilton Head, South Carolina, which had been threatened earlier this year and impacted by a few hurricanes, is particularly prone today to the effects of an explosively developing cyclone.”

“In terms of trying to convey meteorological features to the general population, putting in words like that could confuse people more, or, for some people, alarm them,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini told HuffPost.

In fact, you’ll notice the NWS didn’t use the phrase this morning.

But armed only with that tweet, a Staten Island newspaper invoked it to goose things up.


The phenomenon described by the use of “bomb cyclone” will sound familiar to northeast states. They’re “nor’easters”, although Marshall Shepherd, director of the University of Georgia’s atmospheric program and a former president of the American Meteorological Society, says not all nor’easters are bombs.

But not all big snowstorms are blizzards either, but you don’t see that technicality getting in the way of stirring up the panic.

  • chlost

    It seems that we are being set up to be desensitized to the word “bomb”. It is suddenly being used in the context of harsh winter weather, while at the same time our leaders are cavalierly threatening use of a nuclear bomb as part of a game of chicken with another likely irresponsible nuclear power. Very disturbing.

  • crystals

    Explosive cyclogenesis is WAY cooler sounding than bomb cyclone. Let’s stick with the real scientific term, people!

    • I’m sticking with ‘nor’easter

      And “polar vortex”.


      Freakin’ cold.

    • RBHolb

      “Explosive Cyclogenesis” sounds like the name of an album from a British art rock band.

      • Jerry

        It was my favorite Mortal Kombat move.

        • Postal Customer

          Sonya wins!

      • crystals

        10/10 would listen to.

  • John

    I feel like a grumpy old man today.

    I’m with you 100%. Don’t use bomb cyclone.

    now, get off my lawn.

  • Jerry

    Is this a guest post from Dan Barreiro? Will Carl Gerbschmidt be commenting later?

    • who?

      • Jerry

        In this case, ignorance is bliss.

      • Jeff

        His term is “Weather Terrorists”.

  • lusophone

    I’ve often wondered if these are new terms or just obscure ones that I haven’t heard before. This helps explain that a bit.

  • KariBemidji

    So far, this is my favorite tweet about the current weather panic:


  • Jeff

    Paul Huttner says: “Bomb cyclones are defined by a central pressure drop of at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.” He’s not shying away from the usage. I hope his feelings don’t get hurt.

  • Rob

    It’s almost as if the meteorologists and news media have become the Bomb Squad…

  • Gary F

    Denny Green wins this one with “Calcutta Clipper”.

    • Jerry

      It swings up, swings down, lake front then out.

  • Mike Worcester

    We have scientific terms being used as headline hyperbole. One has defined meaning based on observation and analysis. The other is geared strictly towards ratings and clicks. Kind of like how The Weather Channel started naming every single winter storm to make its way across the jet stream.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      I hate the named winter storms. Its just so they can promote their winter storm coverage the way they promote their tropical storm coverage.

  • Barton

    I think my real issue is that weather only counts when it hits the coasts. If this had started in the midwest, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. This would be for a few acceptable reasons, of course: we’ve less people living out here, we (seem to) handle extreme weather systems better, we have the tools (snowplows, salt/sand trucks) to deal).

    But still, I just eyeroll over all the hyperbole. Result of hyperbole: friend in NYC just told me her local corner grocery store is out of milk and bread….

    • The reality though is that the East Coast is the engine that makes the country go. When it stops, it ripples.

    • KTFoley

      Ehhhh, I have a friend in Gloucester MA who photographed the tide coming in on the main streets there. We don’t have that — a tide that arrives twice a day, this time carrying cement-like ice slabs up to your door.

      Weather counts more when the ocean gets in on the act.

      • KTFoley

        But seriously — “bomb cyclone”?

        No, Kova.