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The Halloween Storm of 1991: A look back

I'm sure we all know that today is halloween, but how many of us remember what happened at this time in 1991?

During the end of October and the first couple days of November of 1991, the greatest storm that I have seen formed off the coast of New England. The National Weather Service itself called this a 'perfect storm,' although meteorologists still refer to it as the Halloween Storm. It would be very hard to find a weather aficionado today who has not heard of the Halloween Storm.

The Halloween Storm was formed when an extratropical low formed off of Nova Scotia, a strong cold front was sweeping down from Canada, and Hurricane Grace was moving up the East Coast. This confluence of events led to a storm that was so strong that it lasted the better part of a week, consumed a hurricane, retrograded backwards towards New England, and created a new hurricane in its wake. Before the storm was over it would leave hundreds of millions of dollars of damage in areas across the Northeast (mostly in Massachusetts) and rival (or exceed) the fabled Blizzard of '78 in destruction across New England.


The Halloween Storm was a perfect example of the influence of politics in meteorology. There is absolutely no question that a new hurricane was formed on November 1, 1991 within the general circulation of the large low. However, this hurricane was never named due to political pressure. The National Hurricane Center was fearful of feeding a media frenzy that was already sensationalizing the widespread destruction across New England. It was also believed that the new hurricane would be short-lived and only of concern to mariners (who were already trying to avoid the area), so the hurricane was recorded into the record books, but never named. The new tropical system did make landfall on November 2 near Halifax, NS, as a tropical storm.

hurricane1991.gif Unnamedpkvisbu.gif

During the storm's retrograding motion, it tracked back over the warm water of the Gulf Stream. On Halloween itself, the storm developed subtropical characteristics that should have earned the storm a name (seperate from both hurricanes involved). Of course, as we previously covered, that wasn't going to happen.


I personally can remember walking along a beach in northern Massachusetts (very near the New Hampshire border) and seeing only the foundations of buildings left on the beach. In one case all that was left was a tile floor of a bathroom with tile spread over the beach. Luckily in this case, military police were present to protect both life and property.

For those of you who want to read more, the National Climatic Data Center maintains an excellent database. They have superb discussions, damage reports, and images to better explain the storm. (More than I have room for here.) Below are some links you might find useful:

Posted by Bryan Woods | Permalink