Stormy Weather

Hurricanes, Monsoons, and Tropical Storms

What was the Perfect Storm?

The subject of a 1997 novel by Sebastian Junger, as well as a 2000 movie starring George Clooney, Diane Lane, and Mark Wahlberg, the Perfect Storm was also a real, terrifying event. During the last days of October 1991, an extratropical cyclone organized itself several hundred miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. At the same time, Hurricane Grace—a relatively weak category 2 hurricane—moved toward this storm from the south. As Grace approached the northern cyclone, the winds from the cyclone did something unusual. Typically, tropical hurricanes will tend to move away from the shoreline as they move north, but the cyclone winds, spinning in a northeastern swirl, blew Grace toward the Northeast Coast. The two storms merged and became known as the 1991 Halloween Nor’Easter.

The result was one of the most destructive storms in history, with winds up to 65 knots (75 miles per hour or 120 kilometers per hour) and ocean waves up to 39 feet (12 meters) high. A dozen people died in the storm (including the six crew members aboard the swordfishing vessel Andrea Gail, the subject of Junger’s novel) and one billion dollars in damages were incurred. In another unusual twist, the Halloween Nor’Easter had turned into a hurricane by November 1, an event that is quite uncommon for an extratropical low pressure system, though not unheard of. The new hurricane, however, remained unnamed because the National Weather Service thought it might be confusing to the American media to rename the Halloween Nor’Easter.


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