NOAA provided this image of a previous bomb cyclone that hit the east coast in 2017.

In my last couple of articles, I wrote about hurricanes and tropical storms. I was elated when the tropical storm season abated and looked forward to a normal Lowcountry fall and winter. 

But what’s a normal Lowcountry winter?  

I remember warm December days walking on the beach and even one Christmas walking around in short sleeves and shorts. This is among the reasons we moved from the northeast to the Lowcountry. 

But every now and again a cold winter storm rears its head here in the South. Over this past Christmas holiday, for instance, we experienced what has been described as a “bomb cyclone.” 

A bomb cyclone, also known as bombogenesis, is a fast-developing storm that occurs when atmospheric pressure drops at least 24 millibars or 0.7 inches over a 24-hour period, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

With the arrival of this year’s bomb cyclone, most of us rushed to protect our plants from frost and did our best to keep our plumbing from freezing – not to mention trying to keep ourselves warm. 

This storm hit not only the Lowcountry but elsewhere in the South as well. Friends in other states reported temperatures in the single digits and many parts of the north had record snowfalls. I recall more than one neighbor joking, “What’s all this about global warming?” Some will remind us that we have had severe cold and snow here before.  

In Beaufort County, in January 2018, we experienced what was called a “historic winter storm.” The beaches were covered in snow.  The last sizable snowfall was the record-breaker that happened in 1989, when more than 6 inches of snow landed in the Lowcountry and Hwy. 278 was a slab of ice. There was also the blizzard of 1973, one of the biggest South Carolina blizzards of all time.

Yes, we have had weather fluctuations where we might get very extreme heat or rain, cold or snowy spells. But our average climate refers to much longer periods over time. We become aware of a sharp change in weather almost immediately.  

However, we do not seem to notice the slower, protracted changes in our climate. Scientists inform us that the Gulf Stream is slowing. Polar ice caps are melting. And all these factors together will impact both the number and severity of storms both tropical and winter that we will see over time. 

Although this extreme type of weather system does not come often to this area, we still need to be concerned once the tropical storm season is over.

John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek.