Despite the fact that it was a below average season compared to the fifty year average (1950-2000), the 1991 season had two memorable hurricanes. In an article posted on this site in August, 2006, Hurricane Bob's fifteenth anniversary was commemorated. Bob was actually a Category Three Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale before weakening to a strong Category Two with 100 mph winds as it plowed into the Northeast and New England. The other big storm from that season came in late October. Hurricane Grace formed in the Western Atlantic, and grew to a strong Category Two before weakening and becoming extratropical when it was absorbed by what became "The Perfect Storm."
Grace had a very short life-span as a tropical system. Lasting only four days, it just missed being one of the shortest lasting storms on record by one day according to the Hurricaneville Info Center Database. Grace formed as a depression some four hundred miles to the south of Bermuda in the Western Atlantic on October 25, 1991.
Within a day, Grace had become a tropical storm. Meandering about in the relatively warmer waters of the Western Atlantic, the storm became a hurricane on October 28, 1991, and made its closest approach to the United States coastline on the same day. Hurricane Grace moved to within approximately 670 miles of the Southeastern U.S. shoreline before it changed course, and headed back toward Bermuda.
Grace peaked shortly afterward on October 29th with winds reaching strong Category Two intensity at 100 mph while its minimum central pressure dropped to 982 millibars, or 29.00 inches of Hg (Mercury). In the movie, The Perfect Storm by Wolfgang Petersen, Hurricane Grace was depicted as a Category Five storm, but that was an embellishment done for effect. On the same day, the 29th, the storm made its closest approach to the island of Bermuda as it passed about 90 miles to the South of the island.
It didn't take long for the hurricane to begin losing its tropical characteristics though. As a matter of fact, its demise occurred also later in the day on the 29th. At about 61 degrees West Longitude, Grace became extratropical, and later became absorbed into what became the "Halloween Storm", or "The Perfect Storm ." This perfect storm was a hybrid or subtropical system in the sense that it had features that are seen in both tropical storms and extratropical storms.
The storm was the coming together of several different weather events happening at the time. Obviously, Hurricane Grace, which was dissipating east of Bermuda, was one of them. Another was an approaching cold front in the Eastern portion of the United States. The third was a developing low off Sable Island in the Canadian Maritime province of Nova Scotia. The combination of these weather systems formed a massive storm that exploded with energy.
Pressure in this hybrid system fell from 988 millibars or 29.18 inches of Hg to 972 millibars, or 28.70 inches of Hg in a period of 24 hours. Now, that pressure drop is eight millibars short or being what meteorologists call a "bomb" cyclone, but that is still very explosive development. Looking at the satellite imagery from that time, the storm was located in the vicinity of the Gulf Stream so it is very likely that this warm current fed the storm energy while the metamorphosis of Grace to an extratropical system probably provided additional strength.
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Look back at the year in which Hurricane Grace formed, 1991 was a time of optimism in the country. The Cold War had just ended. A coup attempt in Moscow that August was amazingly thwarted by the Russian people led by Boris Yeltsin, who used his newly found fame to claim power. With that, the era of glasnost and perestroika brought in by Mikhail Gorbachev was over along with the Soviet Union and its Iron Curtain. The Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves faced off in a thrilling seven game World Series that was won by the Twins in an extra inning Game 7. The New York Giants won their second Super Bowl in four years as they first went into San Francisco, and won a memorable NFC Championship Game over the 49ers, which went 15-1 in the regular season, and then beat Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV when Bills field goal kicker, Scott Norwood, kicked a last second attempt wide right.
Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their first ever NBA title by defeating Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. It was also the year of the first Gulf War, which the U.S. led coalition won convincingly by expelling Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi troops from Kuwait. The year was also remembered for a tumultuous hearing on Capitol Hill when Clarence Thomas was nominated to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Allegations of sexual misconduct dominated the hearings, but Thomas was eventually approved. Computers were beginning to realize their potential with the first uses of the internet and online services such as America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy. Weather wise, it was a hot summer with over 30 days of 90 degree or better heat in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area. The 1991 hurricane season was below average when compared to the 50 year average. There were only eight named storms, four hurricanes, and one major hurricane, which was Bob.
My personal recollections of the Halloween Storm were the news reports of what was occurring along the Jersey Shore and Long Island, where there was tidal flooding. That year there were several coastal storms: Hurricane Bob, which went east of Long Island, and into New England back in August, this storm, and then a Nor'easter in December, 1991. I didn't realize until many years later that Hurricane Grace was a component of the Halloween storm. There wasn't a whole lot of media coverage of hurricanes in October unless you followed the Weather Channel, and by late October, Tropical Updates that were seen everyday during the peak season, were no longer featured since the transition was taking place between summer and winter, and more focus was being made on winter storms. In light of what has happened in recent years, that has changed to some extent.
On a personal note, I had just started to go back to school back in the summer after being out for almost a year. I had some personal problems back in 1990, and had to leave school for a while. Anyway, I returned to take phys. ed. course in the summer, and a math course in the fall while also working part-time at the UMDNJ Medical School over in Piscataway. I would graduate some two and a half years later with an Associates Degree in Computer Science from Middlesex County College, and eventually returned to full time work.
Back to the storm, the Perfect Storm didn't cause as much damage along the Jersey coast, or Long Island as much as it did in New England. News footage from the movie adaptation of the book, The Perfect Storm, written by Sebastian Junger, showed tremendous waves pounding the shoreline. Nevertheless, I do recall my older brother saying how the storm produced much stronger winds than Hurricane Bob did here in Central Jersey. Keep in mind though that Bob was well off shore in the Atlantic, and even steered passed Long Island. In addition, since the hurricane was to the east of us, we would have been on the western side of the storm, which is the weaker side thanks to the counterclockwise motion.
Hurricane Bob took a path up the United States coast that was to the east of the one Hurricane Gloria took in September, 1985, and Gloria was to the east of Jersey as well. In the case of the Halloween storm, New Jersey felt the effects of a frontal boundary that was passing through, and the pressure gradient created between the combined low pressure off the coast and the high pressure building in behind the front.
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While Grace and its extratropical sibling didn't come ashore over land, they did produce plenty of wave and heavy surf action along the New England coastline, and create plenty of mayhem out over the open waters of the Atlantic. High seas presented tremendous obstacles for many ships such as the Andrea Gail, which along with its crew, was the subject of Junger's book. Out at sea, waves were up to ten stories high while winds blew in excess of 120 mph.
This storm was a nor'easter for the ages. Lasting into the first few days of November, ranks as one of the memorable storms of the century. What made matters worse is that the storm wouldn't go away. Actually, it retrograded toward the Eastern United States coastline. For five consecutive days, the North Carolina coastline was hit with winds ranging from 35 to 45 mph. Meanwhile, in New England, Chatham, Massachusetts reported a peak wind gust of 78 mph while Thatcher Island had 74 mph gusts. Over at Marblehead, winds gusted to 68 mph while the Blue Hill Observatory recorded winds gusting to 64 mph. Over in Rhode Island, winds grew to be as high as 63 mph in Newport.
Waves between ten and thirty feet were commonplace anywhere from coastal North Carolina to Nova Scotia in the Canadian Maritimes. High tides ran anywhere between three to seven feet above normal. Here along the Jersey shore, the greatest tidal departures of winter storms were recorded with this weather event while tide heights themselves were only surpassed by those from the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944.
Further South in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, water levels were on par with what occurred during the Ash Wednesday Nor'easter of March, 1962. For instance, Ocean City, Maryland had a high tide of 7.8 feet on October 30th, which exceeded that from the Ash Wednesday storm. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts there were reports of waves as high as 25 feet coming in on top of the already higher than normal high tide. The storm caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage while being responsible for ten deaths including those of the six crewmen aboard the Andrea Gail.
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