1991 Perfect Storm




Oceanfront flooding in Ocean City, New Jersey

The Halloween Storm of 1991 left significant damage along the east coast of the United States, primarily in Massachusetts and southern New Jersey. Across seven states, damage totaled over $200 million (1991 USD).[1] Over a three-day period, the storm lashed the northeastern United States with high waves,[2] causing damage to beachfront properties from North Carolina to Maine.[3] The coastal flooding damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses and closed roads and airports.[4] In addition, high winds left about 38,000 people without power. The total without power was much less than for Hurricane Bob two months prior, and was fairly low due to little rainfall and the general lack of leaves on trees.[5] Overall there were thirteen confirmed deaths,[2][6] including six on board Andrea Gail, a swordfishing boat. The vessel departed Gloucester, Massachusetts, for the waters off Nova Scotia. After encountering high seas in the middle of the storm, the vessel made its last radio contact late on October 28 about 180 miles (290 km) northeast of Sable Island. Andrea Gail sank while returning to Gloucester, her debris washing ashore over the subsequent weeks. The crew of six was presumed killed after a Coast Guard search was unable to find them. The storm and the boat's sinking became the center-piece for Sebastian Junger's best-selling non-fiction book The Perfect Storm (1997), which was adapted to a major Hollywood film in 2000 as The Perfect Storm starring George Clooney.[4][7]

Tamaroa, a Coast Guard cutter that rescued the crew of a downed Air National Guard helicopter

Despite the storm's severity, it was neither the costliest nor the strongest to affect the northeastern United States. It was weakening as it made its closest approach to land, and the highest tides occurred during the neap tide, which is the time when tide ranges are minimal.[2] The worst of the storm effects stayed offshore. A buoy 650 miles (1,050 km) northeast of Nantucket, which was 60 miles (97 km) west of Andrea Gail's last known position, recorded a 73 ft (22 m) rise in wave height in 10 hours while the extratropical storm was still rapidly intensifying. Two buoys near the Massachusetts coast observed record wave heights, and one observed a record wind report.[2] The United States Coast Guard rescued 25 people at sea at the height of the storm,[8] including 13 people from Long Island Sound.[9] A New York Air National Guard helicopter of the 106th Air Rescue Wing ditched during the storm, 90 miles (140 km) south of Montauk, New York, after it was unable to refuel in flight and ran out of fuel. After the helicopter had attempted a rescue in the midst of the storm, an 84-person crew on the Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa arrived and rescued four members of the crew of five after six hours in hypothermic waters. The survivors were pilots Dave Ruvola and Graham Bushor, flight engineer Jim Miolli, and pararescue jumper John Spillane. The fifth member, pararescue jumper Rick Smith, was never found.[10] They were all featured on the show I Shouldn't be Alive.[9][5][11]

Following the storm's damage, President George Bush declared five counties in Maine, seven counties in Massachusetts, and Rockingham County, New Hampshire to be disaster areas.[1] The declaration allowed for the affected residents to apply for low-interest repair loans.[12] New Jersey governor Jim Florio requested a declaration for portions of the coastline, but the request was denied because of the funding needs of other disasters, such as Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Bob, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.[13] The American Red Cross opened service centers in four locations in Massachusetts to assist the storm victims by providing food, clothing, medicine, and shelter. The agency deployed five vehicles carrying cleanup units and food, and allocated $1.4 million to provide assistance to 3,000 families.[12]

New England and Atlantic Canada

Along the Massachusetts coastline, the storm produced 25 ft (7.6 m) wave heights on top of a 4 ft (1.2 m) high tide.[1] In Boston, the highest tide was 14.3 ft (4.4 m),[2] which was only 1 ft (30 cm) lower than the record from the blizzard of 1978.[1] High waves on top of the storm tide reached about 30 ft (9.1 m). The storm produced heavy rainfall in southeastern Massachusetts, peaking at 5.5 inches (140 mm).[2] Coastal floods closed several roads, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate. In addition to the high tides, the storm produced strong winds; Chatham recorded a gust of 78 mph (126 km/h). Damage was worst from Cape Ann in northeastern Massachusetts to Nantucket, with over 100 homes destroyed or severely damaged at Marshfield, North Beach, and Brant Point. There were two injuries in the state, although there were no fatalities. Across Massachusetts, damage totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars.[1]

Street flooding in Ocean City, New Jersey, from the storm

Elsewhere in New England, waves up to 30 ft (9.1 m) reached as far north as Maine,[1] along with tides that were 3 ft (0.91 m) above normal.[8] Significant flooding was reported in that state, along with high winds that left areas without power. A total of 49 houses were severely damaged, 2 were destroyed,[1] and overall more than 100 were affected.[14] In Kennebunkport, the storm blew out windows and flooded the vacation home of then-President George H. W. Bush.[4] The home sustained significant damage to its first floor.[15] In Portland, tides were 3 ft (0.91 m) above normal, among the ten highest tides since record-keeping began in 1914. Along the coast, damage was worse than that caused by Hurricane Bob two months prior.[14] Across Maine, the storm left $7.9 million (1991 USD) in damage,[1] mostly in York County.[14] More than half of the damage total was from property damage, with the remainder to transportation, seawalls, and public facilities.[14] Although there were no deaths, there were two injuries in the state. In neighboring New Hampshire, coastal flooding affected several towns, destroying two homes. The storm destroyed three boats and damaged a lighthouse.[1] High waves destroyed or swept away over 50,000 lobster traps, representing $2 million in losses (1991 USD).[16] Damage was estimated at $5.6 million (1991 USD).[1] Further west, high winds and coastal flooding lashed the Rhode Island and Connecticut coasts, killing a man in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Winds reached 63 miles per hour (101 km/h) in Newport, Rhode Island, causing power outages.[1]

Off the coast of Atlantic Canada, the storm produced very high waves, flooding a ship near Sable Island and stranding another ship. Along the coast, the waves wrecked three small boats near Tiverton, Nova Scotia, as well as nine boats in Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador. In Nova Scotia, where the storm made landfall, precipitation reached 1.18 in (30 mm), and 20,000 people in Pictou County were left without power. The storm also caused widespread power outages in Newfoundland from its high winds, which reached 68 mph (110 km/h) near St. Lawrence. There were at least 35 traffic accidents, one fatal, in Grand Falls-Windsor due to slick roads. Prior to the storm's formation, there was a record 4.4 in (116 mm) of snowfall across Newfoundland.[6] The storm caused no significant damage in Canada, other than these traffic accidents.[17]

Mid-Atlantic states

The cyclone near its closest approach to the United States

In New York and northern New Jersey, the storm system left the most coastal damage since the 1944 Great Atlantic hurricane. Numerous boats were damaged or destroyed, killing two people off Staten Island. High winds swept a man off a bridge, killing him.[1] High waves flooded the beach at Coney Island. In Sea Bright, New Jersey, waves washed over a seawall, forcing 200 people to evacuate.[9] Further inland, the Hudson, Passaic, and Hackensack rivers experienced tidal flooding.[4] Outside Massachusetts, damage was heaviest in southern New Jersey, where the cost was estimated at $75 million (1991 USD). Across the area, tide heights reached their highest since the 1944 hurricane, leaving severe coastal and back bay flooding and closing many roads. The storm caused significant beach erosion,[1] with 500,000 cubic yards (382,000 cubic meters) lost in Avalon, as well as $10 million damage to the beach in Cape May. The presence of a dune system mitigated the erosion in some areas.[13] There was damage to the Atlantic City Boardwalk.[9] Fire Island National Seashore was affected, washing away an entire row of waterfront houses in towns like Fair Harbor. Following the storm, there was a moratorium on clamming in the state's bays, due to contaminated waters.[13] Along the Delmarva Peninsula, there was widespread water damage to homes, including ten affected houses in Sandbridge Beach, Virginia. Tides in Ocean City, Maryland, reached a record height of 7.8 ft (2.4 m), while elsewhere the tides were similar to the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962.[1]

Farther south

In North Carolina along the Outer Banks, high waves were initially caused by Hurricane Grace and later its interaction with a high pressure system. This produced gale-force winds and 12 ft (3.7 m) waves in the town of Duck. Later, the extratropical predecessor to the unnamed hurricane produced additional high waves, causing oceanfront flooding from Cape Hatteras through the northern portions of Currituck County. Flooding was first reported on October 28, when the ocean covered a portion of North Carolina Highway 12 north of Rodanthe;[18] the route is the primary thoroughfare in the Outer Banks.[8] Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills had large portions covered with water for several blocks away from the beach. The resultant flooding damaged 525 houses and 28 businesses and destroyed two motels and a few homes.[18] Damage was estimated at $6.7 million (1991 USD).[1] Farther south, the storm left 14 people injured in Florida. There was minor beach erosion and flooding, which damaged two houses and destroyed the pier at Lake Worth.[1] In some locations, beaches gained additional sand from the wave action.[19] Two people went missing off Daytona Beach after their boat lost power.[9] High waves destroyed a portion of State Road A1A.[20] Damage in the state was estimated at $3 million (1991 USD).[1] High waves also affected Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic.[4] In Puerto Rico, waves of 15 ft (4.6 m) affected the island's north coast, which prompted 32 people to seek shelter. The waves swept a person off a large rock to his death.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Cite error: The named reference ncdc was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ a b c d e f Cite error: The named reference erh was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ Cite error: The named reference post was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  4. ^ a b c d e Cite error: The named reference history2 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  5. ^ a b Staff writer (1991-10-31). "Wind and water take toll along Connecticut Shore". Record-Journal. Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  6. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference Environment Canada Perfect Storm was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  7. ^ Park, Paula (1991-11-11). "Search Ended for Lost Fishermen". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  8. ^ a b c Staff writer (2011-09-11). "Storms turn elements loose: waves, flood, snow, wind". Star-News. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  9. ^ a b c d e Cite error: The named reference pp was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  10. ^ "Surviving The Perfect Storm - Air National Guard" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2013-10-01. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  11. ^ Thiesen, William H. (2010-11-04). "History – CGC Tamaroa and "The Perfect Storm"". Coastguard Compass. Archived from the original on 2012-03-18. Retrieved 2011-07-03. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)
  12. ^ a b Staff writer (1991-11-02). "Red Cross Opens Assistance Shelters". The Sunday Telegraph. Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  13. ^ a b c Buchholz, Margaret; Larry Savadove (1993). Great Storms of the Jersey Shore. Down the Shore Publishing. pp. 148–150. ISBN 0-945582-51-X.
  14. ^ a b c d Hidlay, William C. (1991-11-01). "Maine hit hard by storm". Bangor Daily News. Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  15. ^ Staff writer (1991-10-31). "Bush to assess damage to Kennebunkport home battered by sea". The Pittsburgh Press. Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  16. ^ Staff writer (1991-11-02). "N.H. lobster industry says it was hit hard". The Telegraph. Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  17. ^ Pasch, Richard. "Unnamed Hurricane Preliminary Report Page 3". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
  18. ^ a b Pelissier, Joseph (1991). "North Carolina Coastal Flood" (GIF). National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2011-06-16.
  19. ^ Herzog, Carl (1991-11-02). "Erosion is a sampling of hurricane's potential". Boca Raton News. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  20. ^ Staff writer (1991-11-01). "Wintry blast sends snow into Texas". The News-Journal. Retrieved 2011-07-03.