Defining weather’s wackiest words

A weather phenomenon called a nor’easter, with gusts of nearly 70 mph, whipped the East Coast with wicked (we had to) wind and snow Friday. Hundreds of thousands lost power. The National Weather Service said the storm could be a life and death situation.

It even shut down the federal government. So what is a nor’easter?

Here’s the meteorological dictionary you didn’t know you needed to decipher all this weather news.


is not what the Easter Bunny calls a vacation…

But what happens when the polar jet stream pulls cold air across the U.S. and into the Atlantic, where it mixes with warm air from the Gulf Stream forming a storm that barrels up the East Coast, producing howling winds, intense snow and, at times, heavy rain.

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is not a book in the Bible…

But the meteorological process that creates a “bomb” storm, in which atmospheric pressure rapidly drops (at least 24 millibars over 24 hours), often when cold land air collides with warm Atlantic Ocean air.

bomb cy·clone

is not a totally tubular tornado…

But a winter storm with sudden, explosive intensity. It can produce damaging winds, blinding snow, power outages, downed trees and coastal flooding — basically a very cold hurricane.

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Bomb cyclone

NOAAvia Storyful

po·lar vor·tex

is not Santa’s latest sleigh model…

But a large area of cold, low-pressure air that is always circling the North Pole in a counterclockwise direction (one circles the South Pole as well). In winter mostly, pieces of the vortex can break off, sending frigid air from the Arctic to the United States via the jet stream.

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Polar vortex


is not the Arctic Circle’s premier wrestling match…

But, quite simply, a thunderstorm in the winter that produces snow instead of rain because the temperatures are so cold.

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Twitter/JamesWilson>via Storyful

You’re now equipped to explain the difference between nor’easter and a bomb cyclone — or at least sound smart trying.

Wicked smart, that is.