Midwest Bomb Cyclone Set Low Pressure Records, Bringing Widespread Extreme Weather

March 14, 2019, 4:34 PM EDT

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Above: Wednesday’s bomb cyclone brought wind gusts as high as 104 mph to New Mexico, where high winds derailed 26 cars from this train, 40 miles north of I-40 and Tucumcari. No one was hurt in the incident. Image credit: New Mexico State Police.

A “bomb” cyclone that set all-time low-pressure records over portions of the central U.S. on Wednesday has brought a damaging smorgasbord of extreme weather to a huge section of the nation.

The storm rapidly deepened by over 24 mb in a 24-hour period on Wednesday, qualifying it as a “bomb” cyclone. The low bottomed out at 969 mb over western Kansas on Wednesday afternoon--one of the lowest pressures ever recorded in that portion of the country. Pueblo, Colorado, set its preliminary, unofficial all-time record-low pressure early Wednesday morning (975.1 mb), according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Colorado state climatologist Russ Schumacher tweeted it was the lowest pressure on record there since at least 1950. Six stations on the Oklahoma Mesonet set all-time low-pressure records on Wednesday. Dodge City, KS, had pressure of 974.7 mb, its lowest since 971.6 mb was measured way back on April 8, 1878.

The extremely low central pressure of the storm helped drive damaging winds over a large swath of the central U.S. According to the NOAA storm summary for the bomb cyclone, three stations measured wind gusts of at least 100 mph: San Augustin Pass, NM (104 mph), Cloudcroft, NM (100 mph), and Pine Springs, TX (100  mph). Southern portions of Kilgore, Texas reported widespread damage and downed power lines from high winds, the Kilgore Police Department said, and all roads in and out of Kilgore were "severely limited."

Wind gusts of more than 80 mph were reported in the Dallas-Fort Worth area early Wednesday, which knocked down trees, fences and power lines, according to the Associated Press. In Texas, the NWS said wind gusts of up to 83 mph were recorded in Grand Prairie; 78 mph at DFW International Airport; 71 mph in Addison and 58 mph in McKinney. Winds ripped off the roof of an Amazon warehouse facility near DFW airport.

A powerful blizzard

Powerful winds combined with heavy snow to bring travel to a standstill over large portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and North Dakota, stranding at least 1100 motorists. The highest wind gust in the region was 96 mph at Colorado Springs, which preliminary data shows was their all-time record. Denver’s airport had an 80 mph gust--the highest on record since the airport moved to its current location in 1996. Over a foot of snow fell in portions of Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado. Full details of the blizzard are at weather.com.

Figure 1. River stage of the Elkhorn River just upstream from Norfolk, Nebraska. About a third of Norfolk’s residents were forced to evacuate after the river crested at 17.56’ on Thursday, well above the previous record of 15.10’ set in 1971. Records for the gauge extend back to at least 1961. Image credit: NOAA.

Historic flooding in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota

The bomb cyclone brought heavy rains of 1 – 3” over a large swath of northeast Nebraska, northwest Iowa, and southeast South Dakota. These heavy rains fell on a snowpack with a high liquid water content, and the resulting runoff has brought major river flooding to at least 23 river gauges in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Seven of these gauges have already set all-time high-water marks, with at least four more likely to do so later on Thursday.

third of the 24,000 residents in Norfolk, Nebraska, were ordered to evacuate Thursday after the Elkhorn River reached a record crest and the city's levee system "neared its top," city officials said. One person was reported missing after their car was swept away, News Channel Nebraska reported.

According to the National Weather Service, the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River in northeast Nebraska failed around 5 am Thursday, prompting the evacuation of dozens of residents.

A hospital and nursing home were evacuated in Genoa, Nebraska, after the Loup River overtopped an intake structure at the Loup Power Division, News Channel Nebraska reported.

In Iowa, flooding closed several highways, I-680 near Council Bluffs and a portion of I-29, the Associated Press reported.

Tornado threat continues on Thursday

The bomb cyclone spawned two tornadoes on Tuesday, one in southeastern New Mexico near Dexter, and one near Anton, Texas. The tornado near Dexter was rated an EF2 and caused damage to several homes, injuring 6 people. It was the earliest EF1 or greater tornado in the state of New Mexico during a calendar year.

NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has highlighted a swath of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama as having an “Enhanced” risk of severe weather on Thursday as the cold front of the bomb cyclone rumbles east. Severe thunderstorms with damaging winds, hail, and a few tornadoes are likely. At 9:30 am Thursday morning, a damaging tornado ripped through Paducah, Kentucky, narrowly missing the NWS office. Another tornado was spotted near Morganfield, Kentucky, just before 10:30 a.m., and at 10:38, a tornado was confirmed about 7 miles north of Corydon, Indiana.

Kudos go to weather.com for providing some of the details for this post.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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Dr. Jeff Masters

Dr. Jeff Masters co-founded Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. in air pollution meteorology at the University of Michigan. He worked for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990 as a flight meteorologist.


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