Check Out These Breathtaking Satellite Images Of That Pesky "Bomb Cyclone"


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer


In our best Keanu voice: "Woah." NOAA/NASA

Extratropical bomb cyclones – you know, storm systems that have undergone explosive cyclogenesis – are all the rage right now.

We’ve got an explainer here in case you’re still wondering what the hell it is, and if bomb cyclone is actually a real scientific term (spoiler alert: yes, it is), but for now, we thought we’d distract you all from the biting cold by sharing some beautiful satellite imagery of the beast in question.


The cover image, taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s GOES-16 satellite, shows the winter storm brewing off the eastern seaboard on Jan 4. The sheer size of the storm means that some of its moisture is being derived all the way down in the Caribbean, according to an accompanying NASA press release.


This gif, also courtesy of NOAA, explains that the bomb cyclone isn’t just one simple spinning mass of air. It has many intricate layers, and within its core, you can see several mesovortices, which are small-scale spinning, turbulent masses of air within the large storm system.


This marvel, shared by the National Weather Service (NWS) Boston division depicts the movement of the storm and the amount of water vapor it's bringing with it to the east coast.


Here's another shot of the winter storm from way up above, courtesy of NOAA.


This additional water vapor image, credited to NASA's Earth Science Branch, depicts dry (orange/yellow) segments being subsumed into the storm as time goes on.


Here's an animation of the storm, taken over 24 hours.


The evolution of the bomb cyclone, across night and day.


What you’re seeing here in glorious technicolor are gravity waves. Fairly similar to the ripples that form when you drop a stone in a pond, or when a boat moves through relatively calm waters, these gravity waves are occurring in clouds. When giant masses of clouds are perturbed by something beneath them, they rearrange themselves a little. The clouds bunch up, stretch out, and generate troughs and crests.


Although scientifically and aesthetically beautiful, this particular bomb cyclone is proving to be quite dangerous for some. Keep warm, and keep safe, people!


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