Phil & Mel In The Afternoon

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(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Winter storm. Dangerous cold. Bomb cyclone. These are the words coming out of the mouths of meteorologists all over the country this week. According to The Weather Channel, a major winter storm, officially named Elliott, is bringing brutally cold temperatures to most of the U.S. this week, just in time for Christmas travel. It’s being called a “bomb cyclone,” which is moving from the West to the East Coast.

What is a “bomb cyclone?” A “bombogenesis” (a.k.a. bomb cyclone) usually happens when warm air rises ahead of an arctic air mass with a strong jet stream moving above it. This causes a significant drop in atmospheric pressure of a storm (at least 24 millibars in 24 hours). All that adds up to a recipe for potentially harmful weather. Scientific American has a more complete explanation.

The storm’s most serious effects will be a blizzard in the Midwest starting Thursday (12/22). That region could be hit with six-to-12 inches of snow and “life-threatening” wind chills, while temperatures will feel as cold as 50- to 55-degrees BELOW zero. And, of course, all that mess is moving east, where high winds are a serious concern.

If there’s any good news – with tens of millions of people in 30 states under weather alerts – it’s that those planning to travel might get a little relief from most major airlines. The New York Post reports that United, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska Airlines are offering to waive change fees and fare differences for those wanting to change flights so they can travel before or after the storm, within small re-booking windows.

This all reminds me of the opening sequence in the 1964 animated holiday special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. If you recall, Christmas was under threat of cancellation due to a fearsome winter storm.