Perfect Storm of October 1991

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The “perfect storm” of October 1991 is a true story of a rare weather scenario.

A non-tropical storm literally eats a hurricane and becomes a monster low pressure system, just off of the Northeast coast. What made this storm especially severe is that it spun around and meandered along the coast for several days. Even though the storm never actually made a “landfall” in the United States, it was still quite historic. Coastal flooding and beach erosion from the mid-Atlantic coast up into New England was some of the worst experienced in decades. Waves near the center of the storm reportedly reached near 100 feet. Winds across Cape Cod and the Islands gusted to hurricane force. The setup for such a storm is very rare. Sandy’s evolution had some similarities to “The Perfect Storm,” so I often like to refer to Sandy as “The Perfect Storm Part 2.”

Here’s a timeline of events in the meteorological history of the storm:

October 27th:
Tropical storm Grace was born from a swirl of moisture near Bermuda. The system was not terribly impressive, but did begin to strengthen.

October 28th:
A cold front moves off the New England coast and a low pressure system develops near Nova Scotia. At the same time, Grace, a few hundred miles further south, strengthens into a hurricane.

October 29th:
As the low strengthened, its cold front cut into Hurricane Grace. This interaction eventually lead to the low pressure system essentially eating up Grace. The one storm system would churn and strengthen, slowly drifting towards the west.

October 30th:
The system became a huge extra-tropical (non-tropical) low, causing heavy rain and very strong winds. The storm peaks and is dubbed the “perfect storm” by the National Weather Service.

October 31st:
The storm continues a rare retrograde track towards the Delmarva coast. At the same time, the storm has begun to weaken, but is still a powerful low pressure system.

November 1st:
As the storm moves over warmer Gulf Stream water, it forms an eye and becomes a hurricane. At the same time, it begins to move back towards the northeast, which is the normal track for storms in this area.

November 2nd:
The storm moves towards the northeast and makes landfall in Nova Scotia. Even though it had tropical characteristics, it once again begins to weaken and thus the perfect storm is no more.

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Quincy

Quincy is a meteorologist and storm chaser who travels around the country documenting and researching severe weather. He has on-air experience with stations such as WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. He was most recently a digital meteorologist for weather.com. After achieving his B.S. degree in Meteorology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in 2009, he returned as a University Assistant to help produce weather broadcasts. He also gave guest lectures and worked on website design. He has over nine years of professional weather forecasting experience and his forecasts have been featured in newspapers and on radio stations in multiple states.

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