Technical Weather Terms Go Viral

This winter produced some record cold temperatures and significant snowfall across the eastern two-thirds of U.S.  It also brought a few technical weather terms into our mainstream vocabulary.

In January, bitterly cold arctic air moved south over a large section of this country and the term “polar vortex” became ubiquitous.  Although it sounds ominous, the phrase literally describes what it is – a pattern of winds spinning around the North Pole.

More recently, as a powerful nor’easter moved up the eastern seaboard, “bomb” became a weather buzzword.  Also known as “explosive cyclogenesis”, it is a meteorological expression that describes the rapid intensification of a low-pressure system.  More specifically, it means the surface pressure of a system is expected to drop by at least 24 millibars in twenty-four hours.  In general, the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.

The weather phenomena described by these phrases can occur every winter.  Why did they become so popular this year?  Was it because they happened more frequently this season?  Is it because they work well as catchwords or tags on Twitter?  Perhaps, it was a bit of both.