We have experienced two storms in two weeks in the UK this February, which have turned my thoughts to the story of the Perfect Storm. I’ve never read the book of the same name by Sebastian Junger not seen the 2000 film with George Clooney and Mark Walberg but I had an idea of the plot. What I didn’t realise was the book had been based on an actual storm which caused havoc along the north-eastern seaboard of Canada and the United States at the end of October beginning of November 1991.
The Halloween Storm or No-name storm became known as “the perfect storm” after a conversation author Junger had with Boston meteorologist Robert Case. Case described the weather system as a “convergence of weather conditions…”perfect” for the formation of such a storm”. The storm left damage in seven states and damage estimates ranged from $200 million to $1 billion, not bad for 3 days work. So what made it the perfect storm? In a nutshell, three weather systems converged quite spectacularly.
Nor’easters (winds coming from the northeast) are powerful systems that move across the eastern seaboard of Canada and the US from October to April. They can dump huge amounts of rain and snow over the area and produce hurricane-force winds. In October 1991 a high-pressure system (weather system no. 1) moving across Nova Scotia combined with a low-pressure system (weather system no. 2) moving across the northern states of the US to produce a fierce Nor’easter which started to batter the New England coast.
The third system was the dying remnants of Hurricane Grace. Grace was a category 2 hurricane that had formed south of Bermuda. Towards the end of October she was tracking in a general northwesterly direction just missing Bermuda on her northerly edge and, if fate had decided otherwise, would have hit landfall on the east coast somewhere around North Carolina. Instead, sometime on 28th October she veered around to the northeast and joined forces with the newly formed Nor’easter. Although the intensity of her winds had wanned at this point when combined with the Nor’easter, they were enough to turn this system into a tropical storm and eventually a category one hurricane.
The storm stayed mostly offshore and one buoy 264 miles of the coast of Nova Scotia is said to have recorded a wave height in excess of 30m. Winds speeds were recorded at 70-75mph. Due to the storm bouncing around offshore this may have saved the coastal areas from even greater damage but anyone unfortunate enough to be out at sea was in for a rough ride. The storm finally dissipated when it crossed over Prince Edward Island on November 2nd 1991.
Loss of Life
In total 13 people lost their lives as a direct consequence of the storm. Six of those lives had been aboard the 72′ commercial fishing vessel Andrea Gail which was caught out in the storm. She had left Gloucester, MA in September bound for Newfoundland to catch swordfish. The story of the Andrea Gail forms the basis of the book and film. Sadly the bodies of the crew were never recovered and only a few items of wreckage were washed up on Sable Island off Nova Scotia. Her last reported position was 180 miles northeast of Sable Island. It is believed the Andrea Gail sank somewhere on the continental shelf off Sable Island.
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Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse Image: Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press