This morning, people on the US East Coast woke up to a “bomb cyclone,” a powerful winter storm that acts a bit like a snowy hurricane, and pictures of this explosive weather event from space show just how hurricane-like it actually is.
The GOES-16 weather satellite — operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — has been capturing the cyclone’s progress toward the coast. Its imagery shows what looks like a pillowy white hurricane, one that rapidly formed east of the Carolinas and then cycled its way up toward New England.
Along with snow and strong winds, this storm is also causing instances of thunder and lightning along the coast. This phenomena is similar to the type of thunder and lightning you see during a rain storm. It’s rare, but lightning can occur in snowstorms where the air is unstable and there’s strong updraft. This can cause particles to move upward at different rates, possibly causing them to rub together and create an electrical charge, according to NASA. The GOES-16 satellite has been mapping lightning it finds throughout the bomb cyclone, too.
The @NOAA #GOES16 Geostationary Lightning Mapper continues to detect #lightning flashes in heavy snow on Long Island and Southeast CT. Here are two lightning flashes at 1354 UTC. #blizzard pic.twitter.com/6C3YTG3FXK— NASA SPoRT (@NASA_SPoRT) January 4, 2018
The intense storm has also produced what are known as gravity waves (similar to ocean waves but in the atmosphere). Such waves are known to form in rapidly deepening low-pressure systems, and GOES-16 was able to capture them in infrared light.
In fact, this storm’s pressure has descended more rapidly than most storms usually do. In the last 24 hours, it went down by 54 millibars. (To be considered a bomb cyclone, a storm must drop in pressure by 24 millibars in the same time period.) That means this cyclone’s pressure decreased by more than twice the standard criteria, and the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. “It has one of the greatest rapidly deepening rates we’ve ever seen,” Bob Oravec, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, tells The Verge.
Fortunately, the bomb cyclone is expected to peak by this afternoon, according to Oravec, and it’s moving pretty quickly, so the snow should subside by Friday at the latest. But once the storm is gone, it will still leave high winds and cold temperatures in its wake. The East Coast will be feeling the effects of this storm well into the weekend.