The Perfect Storm

From Academic Kids

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The Perfect Storm DVD

The Perfect Storm is a book (ISBN 039304016X) written by Sebastian Junger and published by Little, Brown and Company in 1997. The paperback edition (ISBN 0060977477) followed in 1999 from HarperCollins' Perennial imprint. It is about the storm that hit North America in October 1991, and features the crew of the fishing boat Andrea Gail, based out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, who were lost 500 miles at sea during the severe conditions.

The Perfect Storm is also a movie adapted from this book. It was directed by Wolfgang Petersen, released in 2000, and features George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, and Karen Allen.

The families of certain crew members disliked the movie and sued the producers in federal district court in Florida. Although the complaint alleged state law claims, the court was able to hear the case under diversity jurisdiction. The district court held that the defendants' First Amendment right to freedom of speech barred the suit and granted a defense motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which could not decide how to interpret the Florida law at issue, and certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court. On April 21, 2005, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the district court's interpretation of Florida law and remanded the case to the 11th Circuit.


The real "Perfect Storm"

The Perfect Storm is not officially called as such; the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NWS Natural Disaster Survey Report called it The Halloween Nor’easter of 1991. The "perfect storm" moniker was coined by NWS Boston Deputy Meteorologist, Robert Case, in a discussion with Junger.

As succintly stated by Case, "A strong disturbance associated with a cold front moved along the U.S.-Canadian border on October 27 and passed through New England pretty much without incident. At the same time, a huge high-pressure system was forecast to build over southeast Canada. When a low pressure system along the front moved into the Maritimes southeast of Nova Scotia, it began to intensify due to the cold dry air introduced from the north. [...] These circumstances alone, could have created a strong storm, but then, like throwing gasoline on a fire, a dying Hurricane Grace delivered immeasurable tropical energy to create the perfect storm."

After the peak of the storm, a hurricane formed in the center of the circulation. It was far north of typical tropical storms, but had all the other characteristics of a hurricane. The hurricane was not named, since the storm had already pounded the eastern United States and the hurricane was forecast to remain offshore; all warnings were storm warnings and not hurricane warnings.

Beginning of the storm

The Halloween Storm began as a typical nor'easter, but developed the conditions of the Blizzard of 1978 when it was stalled offshore by the high pressure in Canada. To add fuel to the fire, as Case stated, Hurricane Grace, blowing itself out in the Atlantic Ocean, but still carrying a lot of water, responded to the cold front and headed toward the low. It was quickly shredded by wind shear and was absorbed. The large amount of moisture and warmth present in the hurricane helped intensify the storm.
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Hurricane Grace being absorbed by the low, 28 October 1991

The height of the storm

The Halloween Storm reached peak intensity at approximately 12:00 UTC 30 October 1991 with the lowest pressure being 972 millibars. This huge storm, with its associated high winds from the pressure gradient between the high and low, created huge waves. NOAA buoy 44011 located at 41.1° N, 66.6° W reported maximum sustained winds of 49 knots (91 km/h) with gusts to 65 kt (120 km/h) and a significant wave height of 39 feet (12 m) near 15:00 UTC. Buoy 44008 located at 40.5° N, 69.5° W reported maximum sustained winds of 53 kt with gusts to 63 kt and a significant wave height of 31 ft near 00:00 UTC on October 31. Other, higher waves (such as the one shown in the movie) were reported by ships, but not confirmed.

Weakening storm, and associated hurricane

The storm, which was moving southwards, moved over warmer Gulf Stream waters and began to develop the convection (thunderstorms, rain, etc.) of a tropical storm at or about 00:00 UTC November 1. It later strengthed to true hurricane status, with peak intensity of 980 mb and sustained winds of 65 kt (making it a Category 1 hurricane). Since the northeast of the United States had already received a pounding from the main storm, and the hurricane was forecast to remain offshore, it has never received a name and is known at NOAA as the Unnamed Hurricane of 1991 (or Hurricane #8 - 1991). Had it been given a name, it would have been called Hurricane Henri.

Damage and results of the storm

The Halloween Storm of 1991 was a costly storm; Walter Drag, Senior Forecaster at the Boston National Weather Service office, estimates the cost of the storm to be under 1 billion U.S. dollars. It caused 12 confirmed deaths; 6 onboard the Andrea Gail. It lashed northeastern U.S. with a storm tide of >14 ft above a storm surge of approximately 5 ft, and piled on 30 ft waves on top of that. Fortunately, the worst of the storm stayed offshore.

The cold front also spawned a major blizzard in Minnesota. The Halloween Blizzard, was a major winter storm that pounded the eastern half of Minnesota over a three day period. The storm dropped 28.4 inches (72 cm) of snow on the Twin Cities, a single storm record for the region. Duluth received 36.9 inches of snow. This remains the largest snowfall amount from a single storm total in Minnesota history. In southern Minnesota, with slightly warmer temperatures, it became a major ice storm. Especially hard hit was the area around Albert Lea and Austin. The extremely cold temperatures that followed hindered highway snow removal and transportation was largely shut down.

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