A “bomb cyclone” is approaching the central U.S. and is expected to bring blizzard conditions and strong winds to a major portion of the country.
Bomb cyclones occur when a quickly forming storm results in a drop in atmospheric pressure of at least 24 millibars.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has warned of a major winter storm ranging from the Central Rockies through the Plains. Severe blizzard conditions are expected across parts of Wyoming, western Nebraska, western South Dakota and northeast Colorado. Blizzard warnings were put into effect from northeast Colorado and southeast Wyoming across western Nebraska and southwest South Dakota, according to NWS.
Severe #blizzard conditions, with winds gusting from 50 to 70 MPH, are expected by late this evening across parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and S Dakota. Blizzard conditions may spread into the rest of the Northern Plains through Thursday morning. https://t.co/VyWINDk3xP pic.twitter.com/tnjhh4cIlq— NWS (@NWS) March 12, 2019
CNN reports 70 million people are in the path of the storm, with 45 million under a high wind threat, 10 million under winter storm threats and about 15 million facing a flood threat.
The storm, while more intense in its overall impact than other weather events that generally in hit mid-March, is not too unusual for this time of the year, says Matt Rinde, a senior meteorologist at Accuweather.
“These are early spring storms that really do show their hand in something like this quite often,” he says.
Here’s what to expect from the bomb cyclone.
Strong winds are surpassing 80 mph
Winds are predicted to blow between 50 and 70 miles per hour across the region, and heavy snow accumulating to at least 6 inches is likely in parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and the Dakotas.
430 AM Looks as though we're off to a windy start this morning. Current wind gusts are mapped below, East slopes of the Franklin and San Andres Mts show the strongest gusts so far, 60 mph gusts at Biggs AF. High Wind Warning for all of S. NM & far W. TX until midnight tonight pic.twitter.com/oxNQ6kD1ee— NWS El Paso (@NWSElPaso) March 13, 2019
In western Texas, New Mexico, parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado, wind gusts are expected to exceed 60 miles per hour. Portions of western Texas have already seen winds between 70 and 80 miles per hour, with some even going beyond 80 mph, according to Rinde.
Strong winds are a hallmark of bomb cyclones, Rinde says, and he calls the scale of the one beginning to slam parts of the midwest “impressive.” Because the storm ranges across a wide swath of the U.S., the system’s impact will differ depending on where it hits.
“It’s a powerful storm system that when it starts to come together, strengthens very quickly,” Rinde says. “With severe weather on the southern side, blizzard conditions on the northern side, the concern for flooding, and then, the winds that are outside of the thunderstorms. It’s an impressive event from top to bottom.”
Heavy snow will cover the region
Widespread, heavy snows are expected between Wednesday and Thursday across the Central High Planes and Upper Mississippi Valley, according to NWS. Snow will blanket the areas where blizzard conditions are likely, such as parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. Freezing rain will also bring ice accumulation to impacted areas.
Here's an update on the storm moving into the region beginning late tonight continuing through Thursday. There are multiple hazards, including freezing rain and snow, with this system. Continue to stay up to date with the latest forecast. pic.twitter.com/a1h7WtgDOu— NWS Sioux Falls (@NWSSiouxFalls) March 13, 2019
Travel plans impacted
Nearly 1,000 flights coming in and going out of Denver International Airport have been cancelled as of Wednesday morning, according to FlightAware. A blizzard warning is in effect for Denver.
The calm before the storm. DEN team members are preparing for tomorrow's snow storm. We are anticipating some possible delays and cancellations, be sure to check your flight status with your airline. #cowx #BombCyclone pic.twitter.com/OkyGIjOGYY— Denver Int'l Airport (@DENAirport) March 12, 2019
Denver Public Schools cancelled classes due to the severe weather, the school district said in a tweet.
Southwest Airlines cancelled 411 flights, while SkyWest Airlines, headquartered in Utah, had cancelled 259 flights by Wednesday morning. United Airlines also cancelled 133 flights.
Rinde advises that travelers in the region give themselves as much extra time as they can and to avoid the storm, if possible.
“It’s better to be out of it,” he says.