Overnight Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment — What you need to know about the bomb cyclone

What exactly constitutes a “bomb cyclone”? We’ll dive into that, as well as surprising news on European emissions and a new study with ominous news about climate tipping points. 

This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Zack Budryk. Someone forward you this newsletter? Sign up here or in the box below.

What is a bomb cyclone? 

A massive winter storm — which some are calling Winter Storm Elliott — making its way across the United States is projected to intensify into a so-called bomb cyclone as it dumps extreme winter precipitation across the Midwest heading into the weekend. 

  • Bomb cyclones are hurricanes that form in winter through a process known as bombogenesis or explosive cyclogenesis, the meteorological term for when a midlatitude cyclone undergoes rapid intensification at speeds of at least
    24 millibars, the measure of atmospheric pressure, over a 24-hour period.
  • The phenomenon usually occurs in the winter months, but has occurred in the summer months on rarer occasions. 

So how did it happen? Conditions for this rapid intensification often result when a cold and warm air mass collide. The speed of intensification can cause temperatures to drop — in the case of Great Plains and upper Midwest states, temperatures have plunged in minutes as the mass of arctic air moves south. 

“In this case, we are expecting it to deepen pretty rapidly there over the Great Lakes,” Alex Lamers, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told The Hill. 

And the East Coast’s not off the hook: While the blizzard conditions from the storm are likely to predominantly affect the Midwest, experts say bomb cyclones can lead to extreme weather at the fringes as well. In this case, the storm is projected to deliver rainy conditions up the East Coast, and forecasters have projected high winds and heavy rain in the northeastern U.S. 

“Any time you get a rapidly deepening storm system like this, and it’s encased in a lot of cold air, you’re going to get really strong wind gusts over [a] very big area, which is what we’re seeing pretty much anywhere from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast,” Lamers said.

“We’re expecting gusts of 40 miles an hour or stronger, and it will be stronger in some areas, particularly in the in the plains and then also the Northeast.” 

Read more about the storm here.

EU emissions dropped this fall, defying expectations

Carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union reached a 30-year low this November — upending forecasts that a surge in fossil fuel imports would do the opposite, a new report reveals. 

The EU’s ongoing energy crisis, driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, generated concern that a subsequent scramble for fossil fuels would cause an increase in the bloc’s emissions, according to the report released by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. 

But: Yet power sector emissions and coal use plunged in November for the third month in a row, the Helsinki-based organization determined.  

The report, which relied on near real-time tracking of carbon emissions within the EU, attributed these surprising developments to a “misunderstanding” about resource acquisition and actual consumption. 

  • The EU increased its fossil fuel imports from around the world to replace lost supplies after Moscow cut off natural gas exports and the bloc in turn banned Russian coal imports, the authors explained. Meanwhile, weak nuclear and hydropower output led to a rise in coal and gas demand in early 2022. 
  • Nonetheless, the bloc also experienced dramatic reductions in fossil fuel use in both industry and buildings, according to the report.  

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin. 

Current heating levels may be climate tipping points

Destabilizing and dangerous climate tipping points are possible even at current levels of global heating, a new study has found. 

Chances of the collapse of vital earth systems rises to 50 percent if temperatures rise above 4 degrees Celsius (6.4 Fahrenheit) — even if society successfully brings them to safe levels later, according to the study in Nature Climate Change

  • Fully avoiding such a collapse is only possible at less than 1 C of global heating (1.8 F) above pre-industrial levels, the authors at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research wrote in a statement. 
  • The globe is now at 1.2 C above pre-industrial temperatures. 

The Potsdam team was looking at the impacts of varying forms of “overshoot,” in which global heating passes agreed-upon red lines, even if it is later brought under control. 

  • The relationship is straightforward, Potsdam’s Nico Wunderling explained. 
  • “We found that the risk for the emergence of at least one tipping event increases with rising peak temperatures,” he said in a statement. 

Even with a brief time at 3 C of heating, one-third of all simulations evaluated by Potsdam led to a system collapse. 

These are the circulating Atlantic current, the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and the Amazon rainforest. 

While the vulnerable ice sheets are at particular risk, the Amazon and the Atlantic current — while more resistant to high temperatures — are more likely to fall apart with stunning speed once the collapse begins, the scientists noted. 

And the collapse in any system risks triggering “cascading interactions between the four elements,” the authors wrote. 

Read more from The Hill’s Saul Elbein. 


President Biden on Thursday was briefed on the major winter storm and cold blast set to impact the majority of the U.S. ahead of Christmas. 

“I encourage everyone, everyone to please heed the local warnings. We’ve tried to contact 26 governors so far in affected regions. Go to weather.gov for more information,” Biden said just before the Oval Office briefing. “This is not like a snow day when you were a kid. This is serious stuff.” 

Biden also said he would be briefed by National Weather Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials. 

The White House earlier said the winter storm system traversing the U.S. and its impacts would be discussed. 

Biden in the briefing called the storm and extreme cold weather reflected on a map “dangerous“ and “threatening.” 

  • The upcoming Christmas weekend is expected to be the coldest in decades in most states. 
  • The Midwest is already experiencing an arctic blast of cold, as well as heavy snow and wind. Millions of people in the Upper Midwest and the Plains have been placed under blizzard and winter weather warnings. 

Read more from The Hill’s Alex Gangitano. 


  • The tricky business of putting a dollar value on a human life (Vox
  • Pro-oil petition drive in California under question (The Associated Press
  • The $52 billion plan to save New York’s low-lying areas from sea level rise and storm surges (CNBC
  • Court faults EPA for approving bee-killing pesticide (E&E News
  • To ease looming West Texas water shortage, oil companies have begun recycling fracking wastewater (The Texas Tribune

🐸 Lighter click: Let me be clear

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.  


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