A look at weather extremes and the big-picture climate connections.

Ferocious Storm Set to Explode in North Atlantic

Some of the most powerful storms on earth form in the North Atlantic Ocean during wintertime, spelling peril for sailors unfortunate enough to encounter them. For the past few days, the meteorologists at the Ocean Prediction Center (OPC) in College Park, Md., whose job it is to warn vessels of weather hazards, have been highlighting the likelihood of a treacherous storm event that is taking place in the open ocean, to the south of Iceland.

Satellite image of the intense North Atlantic storm, taken by the NASA MODIS imager on Saturday Jan. 26.
Click to enlarge the image. Credit: NASA.    

A storm that was rather inoccuous when it affected the U.S. is exploding, through a process known to meteorologists as “bombogenesis,” into a ferocious storm over the North Atlantic. The storm has intensified enough to become stronger than Hurricane Sandy was, as measured by the minimum central air pressure. That storm devastated the northern Mid-Atlantic coast in late October and the lowest pressure recorded during it was 940 mb. The current storm intensified all the way to 933 mb, if not even lower than that, based on information from the OPC on Saturday.

In a Facebook post on Friday, the OPC said the storm is expected to undergo “incredible, explosive cyclogenesis” during the next 24 hours, with the central pressure plummeting from 988 mb on Friday down to 927 mb by late Sunday. (In general, the lower the central air pressure, the stronger the storm.)

At its maximum intensity, the storm will be capable of producing winds to 90 mph, and waves of greater than 50 feet, the OPC said.

Fortunately, the storm is expected to weaken considerably before it interacts with northwestern Europe, but it could still produce strong winds in Ireland and parts of the U.K.

The storm comes about 10 days after a different storm underwent a similar process of rapid intensification over the North Pacific Ocean, pummeling the western Aleutian Islands of Alaska with hurricane force winds and high waves, but sparing the rest of the state from any major impacts.

Computer model forecast for early Sunday of significant wave heights over the N. Atlantic. (Some waves will actually be higher than indicated here, since this shows the average of the top one-third of waves.) 
Credit: Facebook/Stu Ostro.

The North Pacific storm's minimum central pressure plunged by 48 to 49 mb in just 24 hours, making it one of the most rapidly intensifying storms at a mean latitude of 34°N since 1979, according to a data analysis by Ryan Maue of Weatherbell Analytics..

As strong as the upcoming Atlantic storm is expected to get, it is not likely to set any records. The strongest extratropical storm on record in the North Atlantic occurred in 1993, when a minimum central pressure of 913 mb was recorded near Scotland’s Shetland Islands, according to Weather Underground. That was the lowest sea-level adjusted barometric pressure reading observed on the earth’s surface, with the exception of lower readings measured during tropical cyclones and tornadoes.

Climate studies have shown that extratropical storms in the Northern Hemisphere are shifting their paths northward as the climate warms, and there has been a trend toward stronger Arctic storms in recent years. However, the question of whether characteristics of storms like the one this weekend are changing in response to the warming climate is unclear, given the fact that these events have a long history in the region.

Related Content
Stratospheric Phenomenon Is Bringing Frigid Cold to U.S.
Monster Storm Lashing Outer Reaches of Alaska
Ongoing Coverage of Hurricane Sandy 
Alaska Superstorm Lashes Villages Already Hit Hard By Climate Change

« Extreme Planet


By Chris Squire-UK (Twickenham)
on January 26th, 2013

This low is nothing out of the ordinary according to the Met Office synoptic map:


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By Ralph Barnes
on January 28th, 2013

Yawn…... let me know when you have some real news…..  a storm (lol)...

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By Susan Anderson (Boston, MA)
on January 28th, 2013

930 mb not out of the ordinary?  Huh?


(this has a nice list of lower pressures, but for comparison, Sandy was at 940 mb.)

Following on this, I see that lower pressure is more usual when the storm is not over land.  Always fun to learn something.

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By john werneken (vancouver)
on January 28th, 2013

Why do people insist that Sandy was a significant storm? It was only noticed as it was due to the concentration of people, media, and stupidity all in one place. Dozens and dozens of storms were greater in every possible respect, from wind speed to extent to barometric under-pressure to lives lost to economic damage. I’m tired of hearing about Sandy.

A big DUH on the North Atlantic storm as well. Anyone with an interest in storms that extends very far past the last storm they personally experienced would be likely to know that human standards for storms are regularly exceeded in several places, of which the north Atlantic is one. The east coast of southern Africa is another. Gale force winds, heavy rains, freezing temperatures, and 100 foot and higher waves, all at once, are not that unusual. Deliberate attempts to find and measure these instances sometimes are successful, but the oceans are large lol.

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By Peter Malsin (Hanover NH 03755)
on January 28th, 2013

The bots lurk on every climate-related site, ready to pounce so they can collect their tawdry commissions. The graphic alone is worth the price of admission to this article. The size of this storm combined with the intense low pressure, combined with wave magnitude do make it an eyecatcher, imo.

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