By Jenna Lee
The arrival of the holidays is one of the most anticipated events of the year. Weary students yearn for rest from final exams and home-cooked meals. Those in the workforce finally get some well-deserved days off or shorter shifts. Many families are excited to celebrate and catch up after times of separation. Most everyone awaits this special time…especially after the chaotic and busy year. However, just when you think you’ve seen and been through it all, enter the Bomb Cyclone.
What is a Bomb Cyclone?
According to Accuweather, a popular weather app, a Bomb Cyclone is a “Storm (low pressure area) that undergoes rapid strengthening. The vast majority of such storms occur over the ocean. The storm can be tropical or non-tropical in nature.” One major factor of this storm in particular is its movement of bone-chilling arctic air into the states. This led to 30 degree or more drops in temperature…within a few hours. The Guardian elaborates on the cause of this storm’s rapid progression, “The bombogenesis was caused by a collision of cold, dry air from the north and warm, moist air from the south.” Millions of people received freezing weather warnings via their cell phones as well as experienced record-breaking cold temperatures all over the United States.
What really put the nail in the coffin, however, was sub-zero wind chill. The human body regulates temperature through convection, meaning that heat circulates around the body and radiates outwards. When you factor in strong, freezing wind, this can blow away that “heat layer,” thus leading the body to be more susceptible to hypothermia and other cold-related ailments in less time. To avoid the misery, people hunkered down indoors. Yet, there were still MANY problems that arose, even if you were safe from hypothermia.
What problems occurred?
With the arrival of the Bomb Cyclone came multiple worrisome effects. Many homeowners in the northern United States experienced power outages due to the wind and strain on the system. Car troubles plagued the nation like frozen coolant and blocks. Here in San Antonio, the risk of frozen pipes was very high. Citizens were encouraged to keep faucets dripping, purchase covers for pipes, and circulate warm air in vulnerable areas like bathrooms. An interviewee for The Tower living in Alamo Heights commented, “It was stressful, we had to follow protocol. We relied on neighbors for some help with pipe coverings. Every morning I would wake up and make sure nothing froze. That could’ve caused thousands of dollars in damage.” While the temperatures were freezing in South Central Texas, there wasn’t any snow. Certainly parts of the US would consider us lucky. Blizzards and low visibility made driving, or any outdoor activities for that matter, nearly impossible and highly dangerous. Yahoo News estimated the lives lost due to the storm to be at least 70, 39 of the victims were located in New York. The cyclone proved to be a nightmare for those at home, and for those that needed to travel for the holidays, it was a downright disaster.
Forget the Grinch Stealing Christmas…
The brunt of the Bomb Cyclone’s effects unfortunately took place around the days leading up to Christmas. Anyone with plans to travel home or on vacation during the storm will likely have a horror story to tell you. Folks flying on airlines like Southwest, Alaskan, American, and United (and many more) experienced unprecedented delays and cancellations of historic proportions. There was no doubt that the storm exposed numerous systemic and technical issues in some of these airlines.
For the lucky minority that was able to reach their destination, troubles with lost luggage quickly dampened holiday cheer. The wait in the airline counter lines was anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to be rebooked and customer service queues left you waiting on the phone for 4 to 5 hours. Even then there was no guarantee that there would be another flight or that luggage would be available. In the event that there was not an alternative flight, travelers scrambled to find last minute transportation options such as a rental car road trip or a last-minute hotel airport booking. Some unlucky customers spent days at airports where they were stranded. With the pileup of desperate travelers came crew shortages. At the Dallas-Love Airport, overhead announcements regarding missing flight attendants and crew members were rampant. Central hub airports like Newark and Denver suffered from more cancellations and delays than actual successful takeoffs.
Recently, some Reddit threads allegedly authored by airline employees have gone viral. These undercover employees attributed the domino-effect of cancellations to scheduling issues exacerbated by the weather. One Redditor from Southwest Airlines (reddit.com) informed confused and angry travelers that, “The scheduling software went belly up and it almost all has to be unraveled over the phone with crewmembers calling scheduling. If we had better technology that eliminated the need for phone calls, this would have been fixed by now.” This year’s Bomb Cyclone was a true test of airline functioning, and it is safe to say that many of them need to make some changes.
The US Department of Transportation issued a statement claiming that it would hold Southwest, the airline plagued with the most troubles from the storm, accountable for helping their customers reach their final destinations, retrieve their luggage, and return to normal operations. As of New Years, practically every airline resumed their usual service, but the effects from the Bomb Cyclone continue to ripple on in lost baggage taking weeks to be recovered, vouchers, and refunds. Sadly, millions of Americans were unable to connect with their friends and families this Christmas, something no voucher can really replace. Yet, hopefully, a weather catastrophe like this won’t strike again to ruin Christmas plans. However, if it does, we anticipate better airline preparation. Fingers crossed, we hope there is a lesson learned here!
Bomb Cyclone or not, let this event be a warning to always be prepared, a reminder to have a back-up plan, and a testament to the patience of all of those waiting in customer service lines.