Even in an era when waking up to weather bulletins provide a basic way of orienting oneself to the world, the arrival of the bomb cyclone in the early morning of January 4, 2018, along the east coast of the United States, commanded a certain degree of surprise. For those without alerts on their devices, the howling winds that streamed through the streets and rose from rivers provided an atmospheric alert of the arrival of streams of arctic air and snows, creating something called “white-outs” in highways along much of the eastern seaboard that paralyzed traffic and reminded us of the delicate balance over much of our infrastructure.
The effects of the arrival of a low pressure system in the western Atlantic created effects that cascaded across the nation, setting temperatures plummeting and winds spewing snowfall as the extratropical cyclone was displaced off New England, and propelling snow over the east coast from what was an offshore weather disturbance. While the “bomb cyclone” sounded portentous, the actual explosiveness was perhaps not felt at its eye over the Atlantic–
–as the bomb-like burst of pressure scattered snows through howling winds across much of the coast, but rather in the unbalanced distribution of snowfall across the nation that it so quickly created. The cyclonic winds of the “weather bomb” could not be localized: their effect was to set off a burst of precipitation, chilled by arctic airs, remindeding us of the delicate relation between land and sea in an era of climate change, when we are apt to feel the effects of colliding air masses across the country, as far as Tennessee or Ohio.
The bomb created a deep oceanic disturbance in the dissonance of sea-surface and air temperatures, and triggered the increasing imbalances of the distribution of snow across the nation, as if inaugurating an era of the increasingly unequal levels of snowfall, as a bomb that seemed to burst over the Atlantic sent snowfall flying across the east coast–
–in ways that led to a deep disparities of snow and ice levels across much of the country, where much of the nation’s western states were surprisingly free of snow, increasingly rare save in several spots.
The bomb cyclone spread across a broad surface of the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, as the areas that stand to be open to gas- and oil-speculation suddenly took a far greater hit than was expected, raising questions of the arrival of extreme weather systems as sea-surface temperatures grew: the kink in the Gulf Stream created a swirl that sucked in arctic air and spread clouds of snowfall across the eastern seaboard as the seas became incredibly stormy, driven by hurricane winds. The bomb cyclone wasn’t a major disaster, but seems a wake-up call of the charting of minerals stored in the seabed of offshore areas in the Outer Continental Shelf off the United States–the “federal lands” that the government decided since it administers directly it may as well start to lease.
Precipitation Column Rising from Offshore Winds, January 2-4/Ryan Maue