As 2019 comes to a close, AccuWeather's “long-range forecast team predicts an active winter season is ahead for the northeastern United States.” As temperatures start to drop below zero more often, there’s no better time than now to review the potential natural disaster threats that could head our way.
Today, I’m going to cover two in particular: bomb cyclones and polar vortexes. As we’ve seen in recent news, the East Coast was pummeled by a bomb cyclone this past month. And, we can’t forget the deadly polar vortex that struck part of the US last year.
Read on to discover what bomb cyclones and polar vortexes are, notable recent cases, and what to do to protect yourself and your loved ones should they strike your area in the coming months.
What is a bomb cyclone?
A cyclone occurs when a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass. A bomb cyclone, also known as a cyclone bomb, weather bomb, or bombogenesis, is a multi-altitude cyclone that rapidly intensifies. The criteria for a cyclone to be classified as a bomb cyclone is that the pressure must drop 24 millibars within 24 hours. In simple terms, you can think of it a blizzard combined with hurricane-force winds.
However, unlike hurricanes, which tend to form in tropical areas and are powered by warm seas, bomb cyclones don’t need warm ocean waters in order to occur. Instead, they tend to form at the beginning and end of winter, when warm tropical air bumps up against cold Arctic air.
Bomb cyclones cause loss of power, dangerous road conditions, fallen trees and utility wires, and flooding. Recently, a bomb cyclone hit the East Coast in October, leaving over 500,000 people from New York to Maine without power. Massachusetts and Rhode Island were hit the hardest, with wind gusts reaching 70 to 90 mph. With high winds posing a danger to life and property, residents were advised to keep off the roads and stay inside.
Like this most recent storm, bomb cyclones in the US tend to occur on the eastern seaboard. Though they tend to originate over the ocean, they can also appear over land. For example, in the spring of 2019, we saw a bomb cyclone hit central parts of the US. Hundreds were forced to evacuate their homes after major flooding occurred along the Mississippi and Missouri river basins. According to Business Insider, the storm grounded more than 1,300 flights, left more than 84,000 Colorado residents without power, and killed at least one person.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to live in an at-risk area to be affected. Whether it be for work or pleasure, traveling to or through an at-risk area may put you in harm’s way, and these weather systems can occur and intensify very quickly.
What is a polar vortex?
According to National Geographic, “The vortex is a mass of cold air that sits over the Arctic region. It's full of swirling eddies that, during winter months, can grow and extend farther south.”
In late January and early February 2019, this cold air reached so far south that we saw extremely low temperatures strike many parts of the midwest and northeast. Temperatures hit a record-breaking hitting -31 degrees in Rockford, Illinois, with larger cities such as Chicago and Minneapolist hitting -21 degrees -24 degrees respectively.
As TIME reported, the vortex killed 21 people, including…
- A University of Iowa student who was found apparently frozen to death.
- A 38-year-old woman found frozen in her home where the thermostat had malfunctioned in Milwaukee.
- A man was also found dead in his garage in Milwaukee after an apparent collapse while he was shoveling.
- A man found frozen to death in Ecorse, Mich.
- Various vehicle-related deaths that stemmed from dangerous road conditions.
Frostbite and hypothermia are real threats when a polar vortex strikes your area. Taking these low temperatures seriously and staying indoors and warm is imperative if you want to protect you and your family.
How you can prepare for extreme winter weather...
Whether it be a nor’easter, bomb cyclone, polar vortex, or another dangerous winter weather occurrence, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of survival and minimize your chances of hardship.
#1: Stock your emergency kit: Don’t wait until the last minute to stock up on essentials like water, nonperishable foods, a first aid kit, flashlight, batteries, can opener, and solar-powered cell phone chargers. Make sure food and water supply can last you for at least three days - though we recommend having a 3-month emergency food supply on average to cover a wider variety of emergencies.
#2: Fill your car with gas: Prior to severe winter weather, make sure your car is filled up with gas. In general, never let your gas tank dip below half full. Additionally, if you get stranded while driving, you’ll want to have enough gas to keep the car and heat on for as long as possible. That said, it’s best to stay off the roads during severe winter weather, as conditions can pose a danger to you and others. If you’re at home, plan to stay put until conditions improve.
Wintertime can be wonderful season if you know how to prepare and ensure everyone remains safe. Stay alert and informed of potential incoming bomb cyclones and polar vortexes in the coming months, and keep the information I’ve shared today in mind. #3: Stay warm: Stathis Poulakidas is a trauma and burn specialist at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in Chicago. During the polar vortex last year, Poulakidas treated over 50 cases of frostbite, and multiple patients had to receive amputations due to the extent of their injuries. According Poulakidas, people who spend any time outside in freezing or sub-zero temperatures can very quickly deteriorate and die in under 24 hours. Therefore, staying inside and warm is key. Make sure you layer up, stock up on hand warmers, and invest in alternative heat sources at home. Wood burning stoves and fireplaces can go a long way when it comes to heating a space when the power goes out.
It’s best to prepare now. Those that know what’s coming are preparing today.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply