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Deadly Bomb Cyclone Brings ‘Historic’ Snowfall to Central U.S.

Climate
Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Mississippi River on April 11. The week started with two sunny spring days and has since turned to blizzard conditions. Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

One person died and tens of thousands lost power as the second "bomb cyclone" in a month brought snow and wind to the central U.S. Wednesday and Thursday.


The storm dumped snow on Colorado Wednesday, canceling hundreds of flights at Denver International Airport before moving through the plains to the upper Midwest, where it covered some parts of the region with up to two feet of snow, the Associated Press reported. Heavy snow fell in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin, The Independent reported. Whiteout conditions were also reported in parts of Nebraska and Kansas, according to the Associated Press.

"We're calling it historic because of the widespread heavy snow," South Dakota meteorologist Mike Connelly told the Chicago Tribune, as The Independent reported. "We will set some record."

The storm claimed at least one life when a Colorado man lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a snow plow, AccuWeather reported.

The weather site projected the storm would cost $3 billion in economic damages. It led to road closures and forced the cancellation of almost 1,000 flights across the region. Conditions prompted Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to declare a state of emergency Thursday night.

Blizzard conditions in Minnesota led to more than 500 crashes, the Minnesota State Patrol said, according to the Associated Press.

"It's a mess out here. And that is an understatement," Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Gordon Shank said.

A video posted on social media by the Minnesota Department of Transportation showed every power line down along a stretch of Highway 59, NPR reported.

AccuWeather said the heaviest snowfall in the region had ended as of Friday morning, but that driving would still be difficult because of light snowfall and wind gusts.

The storm comes about a month after another "bomb cyclone" triggered record-breaking flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This storm is not expected to cause as much flooding, AccuWeather explained:

The March 'bomb cyclone' caused a rapid meltdown of existing snow cover combined with torrential rainfall.

In contrast, rain associated with this storm was not as widespread and snow farther north is not expected to rapidly melt.

Even though rivers are high and some are currently still at major flood stage, a new round of record river flooding is not expected behind the storm.

A "bomb cyclone" is defined as an extreme weather event in which air pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours, leading to a strong storm system, as CNN explained.

Colorado state climatologist Russ Schumacher told CBS News that it was unusual to see two such extreme storms in close succession, but it was not possible to say if climate change was responsible.

"I think it's an interesting question to ask whether there's some climate change fingerprint on this," he said. "But it's a complicated puzzle to piece together."

However, in general global warming has increased both heavy rainfall and flooding in the Midwest as warmer air can hold more moisture, which means storms pour harder, the National Climate Assessment concluded.

If temperatures are cold enough, that moisture can fall as snow as well.

"During the period when it is cold enough to snow, if you've got enough moisture in the air, you can get some wicked big snowstorms," Princeton University professor of geosciences and international affairs Michael Oppenheimer told PBS in 2015.

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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

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If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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