The Perfect Storm: 30 Years Later

Probably one of the most recognizable impacts from the storm was the loss of the fishing boat, Andrea Gail

BOSTON - It’s been 30 years since one of the fiercest storms to hit New England brought hurricane-force winds, major coastal flooding and destroyed hundreds of homes along the coast.

The storm had a few different names: The Halloween Storm, the Unnamed Hurricane and likely what most people know it as -- The Perfect Storm.

On October 28, 1991, a cold front had moved through the New England area allowing for a ridge of high pressure to build over eastern Canada, bringing typical fall weather to the area.

Meanwhile, a low-pressure system had formed ahead of the cold front off the coast of Nova Scotia. Also in the Atlantic Ocean, to the west of Bermuda, was Hurricane Grace.

How Gloucester honors the Andrea Gail and a fishing legacy spanning over 400 years

Other factors also allowed for such a massive storm system to form. 

A building ridge over the Great Lakes allowed for another trough over eastern Canada to form. That combined with another deep trough in the Rocky Mountains allowed for the system off the coast of Canada to continue to strengthen.

On October 29, the low-pressure system was still strengthening, and Hurricane Grace had moved to the northeast of Bermuda. Grace had then started to become absorbed by the cold front that moved through New England the day before.

The system started drifting to the southwest and had nearly reached its peak intensity, 972 mb, on October 30 and by that time Hurricane Grace had been completely absorbed by the massive storm.

Ships in the area were reporting winds between 50 mph and 60 mph, and a buoy had reported a wave height of 39 feet.

Rogue waves were also reported. A rogue wave is defined by the National Weather Service as being between 2-2.2 times the height of other significant waves.

In the case of the Perfect Storm, rogue waves were reported to be as high as 80 to 90 feet, and seas in the Northern Atlantic were as high as 100 feet.

And while the system was spinning off the coast, all the wind and wave energy was being sent right into the Massachusetts coastline.

The storm had started to weaken by Halloween, but the southerly direction had brought it over a warm area of the ocean, and it's estimated that the storm acquired subtropical characteristics at that time.

The National Weather Service said it's quite unusual for a system to go from a cold-core system to a warm-core system. Typically in New England when hurricanes and tropical storms move into the area, they become subtropical or are "nor'easters," but the opposite happened with this storm system.

That's where "The Unnamed Hurricane" came into play.

A hurricane hunter aircraft was sent into the storm on November 1, and it found that convection in the center had increased to the point where tropical characteristics could be identified.

So, the storm did become a hurricane but was not named to avoid confusion.

The storm then began to speed off to the northeast and passed over the same area where it had originally formed just days before. It then made landfall in Nova Scotia as a tropical storm on November 2.


Hurricane and tropical-storm-force winds were reported across the area:

Chatham, MA – 78 mph

Thatcher Island, MA – 74 mph

Marblehead, MA – 68 mph

Blue Hill Observatory, MA – 64 mph

Newport, RI – 63 mph

The strong winds weren't the only destructive forces. Waves of 10-30 feet were reported from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. In Boston, 25-foot waves crashed onto shore as high tides were already running about four feet above normal. The tide had reached 14.1 feet above the normal low tide, which was about one foot lower than what was reported during the Blizzard of 1978.

Dangerous surf was also reported from the Caribbean to Canada.

The loss of the Andrea Gail

Probably one of the most recognizable impacts from the storm was the loss of the fishing boat, Andrea Gail.

The 72-foot commercial boat with a crew of six is presumed to have sunk sometime after midnight on October 28, 1991, while the powerful storm was still intensifying.

Its last known reported position was about 180 miles northeast of Sable Island, and the ship's emergency beacon washed ashore on the island about a week later.

The story of the Andrea Gail was the subject of a book and was then turned into a movie by the same name in 2000.