'Bomb cyclone': How the East Coast winter storm could turn into a monster

PHOTO: An unidentified man runs down Memorial Walkway to Castle Island as high winds whip the snow, Dec. 26, 2017, in Boston. PlayFaith Ninivaggi/Boston Herald/Polaris
WATCH What is a 'bomb cyclone'?

When the powerful winter storm that's moving through the Southeast coast reaches the Northeast on Thursday, it will undergo a rapid intensification or bombogenesis, a term coined by meteorologists.

Bombogenesis -- or a "bomb cyclone" -- occurs when the pressure of a storm drops 24 millibars in 24 hours, or at the rate of 1 millibar per hour. (A millibar is a measure of atmospheric pressure inside a storm, telling meteorologists how strong or weak the storm system is).

It usually happens when a storm system moves over the warm waters of the western Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream at the same time that arctic air moves in from behind. The Northeast coast of the United States experiences this at least once a year.

PHOTO: A person stands in the wind-driven snow during a winter storm, March 14, 2017, in Boston.Michael Dwyer/AP Photo
A person stands in the wind-driven snow during a winter storm, March 14, 2017, in Boston.

The difference between the two air masses helps to strengthen the storm system, creating what's known as bombogenesis.

PHOTO: Two women struggle to walk in the blowing snow during a winter storm, March 14, 2017, in Boston.Michael Dwyer/AP
Two women struggle to walk in the blowing snow during a winter storm, March 14, 2017, in Boston.

As a storm system moves over the Gulf Stream off the East Coast, it picks up all the available moisture and dumps it in the form of snow if there is enough cold air in place.

The lower the storm's pressure, the stronger the winds are around the storm. This week's strong winds could wreak havoc, bringing major power outages and coastal flooding for Northeast coastal cities.

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