Was it really the Perfect Storm?

Plucked from obscurity by a little-known writer, it gained fame on the best-seller lists. The coastal storm of October 31,1991, is now part of American pop culture as “The Perfect Storm” made famous by Sebastian Junger's 1997 book and the 2000 film of the same name. But did the event really live up to its image?

Other coastal storms have gained more intensity, inflicted more damage, killed more people, or followed the classic life cycle of a coastal storm with more fidelity. What made the 1991 storm so exceptional was a rare, prolonged confluence of factors that led to exorbitant wave heights, measured at 21m/70ft and estimated at 30m/100ft – as high as any in the twentieth century in the north Atlantic.The storm's embryo was a moderately strong, but fairly typical coastal low. As its upper-level support slowed with time, the surface centre slowed to a crawl off the Canadian Maritimes; it eventually moved back west toward New England, providing several days for wave heights to build. As cold air fed into the low from the northwest, the remnants of Hurricane Grace moved in from the southeast, adding a shot of tropical energy. The low developed an unusually hybrid structure, and satellite images briefly showed an eye. A US hurricane-hunter plane on training duty took a peek and found all the earmarks of a minimal hurricane. However, given the marginal conditions for growth and the already-high public awareness, forecasters opted to leave the storm unnamed. It brought 8m/26ft waves to the New England shore, destroying about 200 homes and damaging thousands, including the seaside retreat of the senior President Bush at Kennebunkport, Maine.