The Meteorological Bomb

AKA The Weather Bomb


First, a bit of sage advice: Please don’t mention this term while going through the security checkpoint! 

In discussing this term, I do not intend to influence your decision whether or not to fly, but rather to provide you with information that could favorably impact your pre- and in-flight decision making. If you know the nature of the beast, you may know how to tame it a bit! In other words, I want you to know what you’re getting into. 

meteorological bomb (also known as a weather bomb) is a low-pressure area that undergoes explosive cyclogenesis – a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure of at least 24 millibars or more in a 24-hour period. Think of water going down a drain. Talk about PRESFR!

If you search through the abundance of literature on meteorological bombs and the weather hazards they present, you’ll frequently find mention of winds that rival hurricane-strength. When launching on a flight, this definitely raises a red flag. When you look at the big picture of a bomb, compared to a tropical cyclone, ask yourself this question: What is the difference between two large areas of low pressure (one called a tropical cyclone, the other a weather bomb) extending out several hundred miles from their respective centers, each that can muster 50+ knot winds over a large area? Nothing, if you ask me. So why fly? The principle question is this: Why would we avoid flying in and around tropical cyclones but not bombs? Aren’t they both cauldrons of misery and hazards?

Both weather systems come with similar hazards over an expansive area; turbulence, rain, heavy winds, reduced visibility, etc. Throw in snow and ice as is so often the case in the winter and you have arguably, a more significant hazard to flight with bombs than you do with hurricanes. 

As you learn more about meteorological bombs you’ll see that they can often be larger in scale than tropical cyclones, therefore making them potentially more hazardous because their impact is over a much wider area. This directly relates to your place of refuge. Where are you going to divert? Do you have enough fuel to divert to an area outside of these significant and often remarkable hazards? 

When it comes to tropical lows, we avoid them like the plague but the same is not true of bombs, so we expose ourselves to these hazards more often. We must ask ourselves if we really need to be flying around in these monsters. Conversely, another way that we could look at it is to ask if we need to necessarily avoid flying through tropical weather as we so often do. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a meteorologist, I am a pilot. So, I don’t have the answers but maybe as an industry we should. It is my opinion that these two weather phenomena seem to be essentially the same thing. 

Please realize I am not suggesting anything regarding your go/no go or divert decision. I am simply bringing to your attention something that might be useful to you as a pilot. As we so often say, “We’re going anyway.” This, likely being the case, (Yup, your flight is the only one that wasn’t cancelled.) it might be best to know the nature of your foe. Having a proper mental model is much better for decision making.

Bombs often occur during the winter but not exclusively. The required atmospheric elements needed for formation are typically potent and abundant in the winter. Be aware however, bombs can occur year-round. Those components, in and of themselves, that go into the making of this monster will definitely be the subject of future Aero Crew News articles. But, if you endeavor to learn more, you’ll likely come across some pretty fancy (and groovy) weather terms. Here are a few places to start acquainting yourself with some. bombs are not ‘garden variety’ bad weather. They are instead, exceptionally bad. They occur less frequently than other weather hazards, but we need to be able to better analyze the undertaking of a mission in, through or around one. These are not the kind of weather phenomena to overlook. A bomb’s ability to spew hazards similar to a tropical low over a larger expanse of airspace warrants a great deal of respect. They deserve our understanding and our undivided attention. 


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