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What is a bomb cyclone?

Warnings of what is likely to be Colorado’s strongest storm in decades are using a term unfamiliar to most people: bomb cyclone.
It’s a real thing, but it’s a rare thing. Computer models suggest this week’s event will be one of the rare Plains storms to meet this criteria.

Bomb cyclone — or bombogenesis — is defined as a 24-millibar drop in the barometric pressure of a midlatitude (non-tropical) storm in 24 hours or less, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. So that definition is a reference to the rapid intensification of a storm, something that’s rare to see over a continental landmass.
Normally, an adjacent ocean or significant body of water is needed to create a bomb cyclone, particularly during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months. The difference in temperature between the normally warmer ocean (particularly in the Atlantic, with the Gulf Stream pumping up warmer water from the south) and the cold landmass often creates the fuel source for powerful East Coast lows.
In this week’s storm, however, a sharp contrast between a warm, subtropical air mass and a cold, Arctic one to the north is creating the conditions for a bomb cyclone.
The Weather Prediction Center, an arm of NOAA, is calling for the central pressure of the blizzard to be in the 975 millibar range on Wednesday night, a figure that is nearly off the charts for Colorado.
A storm with a central pressure of 975 millibars is roughly equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane.
Most of northeastern Colorado is in the blizzard warning area, and schools, businesses, government offices and Denver International Airport made preparations for the severe weather.
As of early Wednesday, airlines at DIA had canceled 973 flights.
Heavy snow and very strong winds, which could be up to 70 mph, will develop over northeast Colorado in the afternoon and continue into the night, the weather service said.
A rain and snow mix is expected to become all snow after 8 a.m. The temperature will plummet from about 41 degrees to 25 degrees by 3 p.m., the weather service says.
Steady northerly winds will increase, reaching 39 mph with wind gusts up to 60 mph in the afternoon.
Six to 10 inches of snow will fall in the Denver metro area. Up to 20 inches of snow is expected for the mountains.

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