Why Is The East Coast Seeing Gigantic Storms?

Editor’s Note: Charita Ravula is a middle schooler hailing from Houston, Texas, and her piece is part of our “Soap Box” series where we hear from people like you about solving the climate crisis…

Bomb cyclone. Credit: Several Seconds, FlickrCC

In the early months of 2018, many in the East Coast encountered a severe storm known as a bomb cyclone, leaving at least 6 people dead and at least 900,000 people without power. The East Coast is the eastern section of the United States including states such as Massachusetts, New York, and Maine. As the storm traveled north, it left more and more snow. Forecasters called for a record-setting five-and-a-half inch in Savannah and five to eight inches on the shores of Virginia and Maryland. The fast-moving storm pummeled the South-East on January 3, delivering snow to Tallahassee, Florida, for the first time in three decades and knocking out power to tens of thousands of people in Georgia and Florida. Strengthening over the ocean, it then pounded coastal areas of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey on January 4, with winds of up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour and several inches of snow. The storm’s pressure dropped 59 millibars in 24 hours, which would make it one of the “most rapidly intensifying East Coast storms in the past 40 years”, according to the Weather Channel meteorologists. By the time the storm reached New England, it was dumping a foot or more of snow in white-out conditions in the worst-hit areas. In Boston, hurricane-force winds pushed tides to near-record levels and sent water flowing into the city.

Here are the definitions of several terms that will be discussed in this paper.

Bomb Cyclone – Forms when a weather system quickly drops in pressure and rapidly intensifies.

Climate Change – A rise in the average global temperature. Climate change occurs when long-term weather patterns are altered.

Climate – The average weather in a place over many years. Weather can take a few hours to

change while climate takes hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years to change.

Global Warming – The increase in Earth’s average surface temperature due to escalating levels of greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse Effect – A natural process that warms the Earth’s surface.

Greenhouse Gases – Gases that confine heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse Gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases.

Weather – The way the atmosphere is behaving. Weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, or day-to-day.

A bomb cyclone occurs when a mid-latitude cyclone drops at least 24 millibars over the span of 24 hours. They form when a weather system suddenly drops in pressure and quickly intensifies ― a process called bombogenesis, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. New York City was hit by six inches overnight, while Boston was hit by a foot of snow. The National Weather Service says “winds have been whipping through at speeds as high as 70 miles per hour in New England. In coastal areas, that meant an increased chance of flooding as sea levels rose as much as 30 inches.” The wind, snow, and rising waters come with a risk of power outages, which could be devastating given the historic cold grasping the Northeast.

The Weather Service has warned that power outages “would force considerable hardship where heat would not be available”. The concern is especially severe in New England, where temperatures have broken records. After the “bomb cyclone” hit, the temperatures on Friday have dipped as low as -35, leaving those without power in a drastic situation. Many scientists acknowledge that global warming is accountable for the unusual weather that the East Coast has undergone this winter. According to a study from National Geographic, “unusually cold temperatures in northern North America and lower precipitation in the south-central U.S. coincided with periods of warmer Arctic weather.” The temperature of the Arctic affects the temperature outside of the Arctic. Currently, the temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice the rate of the temperate areas of the planet.

The combination of the cold temperatures seen so far this winter and the bomb cyclone make for a particularly harsh weather phenomenon. The bomb cyclone, known as a bombogenesis, “occurs when a mid-latitude cyclone rapidly intensifies” when “a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass”,  according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Warm temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet stream to take these wild swings, and when it swings farther south, that causes cold air to reach farther south. These swings tend to hang around for a while, so the weather we have in the eastern United States, whether it’s cold or warm, tends to stay with us longer”,  said Jennifer Francis in a press release. The research adds to speculations that more intense winters distinguished by bomb cyclones and polar vortexes will be a more common climate change-induced pattern in upcoming years.

“Global warming is measured by the increase in the average global temperature of the Earth. Along with our currently increasing average global temperature, some parts of the Earth may actually get colder while other parts get warmer—hence the idea of average global temperature. Greenhouse gas-caused atmospheric heating and agitation also increase the unpredictability of the weather and climate and dramatically increase the severity, scale, and frequency of storms, droughts, wildfires, and extreme temperatures”, according to Job One For Humanity.

We can prevent unusual weather phenomenon by finding a solution to stop global warming. Such solutions include using less carbon dioxide, which is released when oil, coal, and other fossil fuels are burned for energy. This energy is what we use to power our cars, homes, and devices. By using less of this energy, we will contribute to fighting climate change as well as saving our money. Another solution is to reduce water waste as saving water reduces carbon pollution. This is because it takes a lot of energy to treat, pump, and heat the water, so it is advisable to take shorter showers, as well as turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. In addition to decreasing the amount of water we use, it is also advisable to manage your electronics by pulling a few plugs. According to NRDC, “the outlets in your home are likely powering about 65 different devices. Audio and video devices, cordless vacuums and power tools, and other devices use energy even when they’re not charging”. Don’t leave fully charged devices plugged into your home’s outlets and unplug rarely charged devices or plug them into power strips and timers.

Works Cited

Bagley, Katherine. “Yes, a Warmer Arctic Means Cold Winters Elsewhere. Here’s How.” InsideClimate News, InsideClimate News, 30 Jan. 2018, insideclimatenews.org/news/31082015/yes-warming-arctic-means-cold-winters-elsewhere-Boston-US-Asia.

Denchak, Melissa. “How You Can Stop Global Warming.” NRDC, NRDC, 17 July 2017, www.nrdc.org/stories/how-you-can-stop-global-warming.

Gibbens, Sarah. “Why a Warming Arctic May Be Causing Colder U.S. Winters.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 13 Mar. 2018, news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/global-warming-arctic-colder-winters-climate-change-spd/.

Mann, Michael. “A ‘Perfect Storm’: Extreme Winter Weather, Bitter Cold, and Climate Change.” Climate Reality, The Climate Reality Project, 4 Jan. 2018, www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/perfect-storm-extreme-winter-weather-bitter-cold-and-climate-change.

Ortiz, Erik. “Why Climate Change May Be to Blame for Dangerous Cold Blanketing Eastern U.S.” NBCNews.com, NBC Universal News Group, 5 Jan. 2018, www.nbcnews.com/news/weather/why-climate-change-may-be-blame-dangerous-cold-blanketing-eastern-n834986.

Raymond, Adam K. “Dangerous ‘Bomb Cyclone’ Could Create Icy Havoc Up and Down the East Coast.” New York Magazine, New York Magazine, 3 Jan. 2018, nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/01/giant-winter-storm-could-create-icy-havoc-on-the-east-coast.html.

Weisberger, Mindy. “’Bomb Cyclone’ Will Pummel Parts of the US East Coast Starting Tonight.” LiveScience, Purch, 1 Mar. 2018, www.livescience.com/61903-bomb-cyclone-east-coast.html.

Yan, Holly, and Judson Jones. “Winter Storm Threatens East Coast, Bringing Temps Colder than Mars.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Jan. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/01/03/us/cold-weather-arctic-outbreak/index.html.