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NOAA satellite image of "Perfect Storm," October 30, 1991June 29, 2000 — Some of the NOAA meteorologists, who forecasted the "Perfect Storm" in October 1991, recalled the unprecedented weather events that created the storm, the dramatic effort to predict it and the improvements in forecasting that followed it. (NOAA satellite image of "The Perfect Storm," October 30, 1991.) [Click image for larger view.]

At a roundtable discussion with reporters in Washington, D.C., D. James Baker, administrator of NOAA, along with Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, and National Weather Service meteorologists Joe Sienkiewicz and Bob Case, said that since the "Perfect Storm" improved technology has enabled forecasters to predict and track fierce storms with greater accuracy.

(See the panel discussion that took place Thursday, June 29, 2000 at NOAA headquarters in Washington, DC. Hear from Bob Case and how he coined the phrase "The Perfect Storm." His segment is six and half minutes into the discussion.) [You'll need Real Player to view this event.]

The storm—created from a collision between a high pressure system, a low pressure system and the remnants from a dying hurricane—sent high winds and Atlantic Ocean waves crashing into the East Coast, from New England to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

"Nine years ago, this event presented a unique challenge to our forecasters," Baker said. "Today, our better understanding of the weather and our improved forecast technology give us greater abilities to predict storms of this variety."

Click image for larger view.
Photo of (left to right) D. James Baker, Louis Uccellini, Bob Case, Joe Sienkiewicz, Ajay Mehta
NOAA panel discusses "The Perfect Storm" (left to right) D. James Baker, NOAA administrator, Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, Bob Case, retired NOAA meteorologist, Joe Sienkiewicz, NOAA marine weather expert, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction and "Perfect Storm" forecaster, Ajay Mehta, acting chief, Search and Rescue Satellite Division,
NOAA's Environmental Satellite Service
(NOAA photo: June 29, 2000, Washington, DC)

Unlike 1991, Uccellini said today's marine forecasts extend as far out as 96 hours, providing ship crews critical advance time of any possible storm activity."Though our forecasts were quite good for this storm in 1991," Uccellini said, "we can do even better today."

He said the National Weather Service's 10-year $4.5 billion modernization program, which was completed in 1999, brought significant enhancements, including Doppler radar, the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, a new supercomputer and new satellite technology.

"NOAA satellites play a key role in marine forecasting because they help detect the first stages of storm development," Uccellini said, adding that 85 percent of the data used by forecasters comes from satellites.

Case, who is now retired, is credited with coining the term "perfect storm." He said he warned the public, while working at the Boston forecast office, that the storm would take on epic proportions. "It was an unprecedented set of circumstances," the now-retired weatherman said. "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.

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NOAA Meteorologist Bob Case, now retired, who coined the phrase, "The Perfect Storm."
NOAA meteorologist Bob Case, now retired, who coined the phrase, "The Perfect Storm."
NOAA photo June 29, 2000

"When a low pressure system along the front moved into the Maritimes southeast of Nova Scotia," Case reflected, "it began to intensify due to the cold dry air introduced from the north." Case added: "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."

Sienkiewicz, of NOAA's Marine Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md., remembered feeling a growing concern at what he saw from the computer models.

"Even though we were predicting what was going to happen, we just knew there were some boats that wouldn't be able to get out of the way of this monster," said Sienkiewicz, who is also a wave expert. He said during the Halloween Nor'easter, "rogue waves," which towered as high as 100 feet, made matters worse for mariners stuck at sea.

"If you're facing average wave heights of 50 feet, it is possible that you'll see a wave as tall as 100 feet, or higher," Sienkiewicz said. "Rogue waves can result if waves meet from different directions, or if they interact with currents, such as the Gulf Stream...Either way, they are devastating."

Relevant Web Sites

The Perfect Storm — NOAA satellite images and history of the storm

Unnamed Hurricane 1991 — More information on the storm

NOAA Images/Movies of Hurricanes and Special Events — Scroll down to 1991. There is an extensive list of satellite images available.

NOAA's Marine Prediction Center and "The Perfect Storm"

NOAA's Marine Prediction Center

Ocean Waves — Real-time data with animations

Search and Rescue Satellite-aided Tracking

NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction

NOAA's National Weather Service Boston, Mass., Forecast Office

Hurricanes: Nature's Greatest Storms

Media Contact:
Curtis Carey, NOAA's National Weather Service, (301) 713-0622.


To ensure that the nation's fishing vessels are equipped for an emergency, NOAA reminds vessel owners and operators that emergency position-indicating radio beacons, or EPIRBs, are mandatory equipment on most commercial fishing vessels, and the EPIRBs must be registered with NOAA.

NOAA reminds vessel owners to follow the manufacturer's instructions for properly mounting, testing and using the EPIRB.

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emergency position-indicating radio beacon or EPIRB
Emergency position-indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB

NOAA is the lead U.S. government agency for the international search and rescue system that uses satellites to detect and locate emergency beacons. The system consists of a network of satellites, ground stations, mission control centers, and rescue coordination centers. When an emergency beacon is activated, the signal is received by a satellite and relayed to the nearest available ground station. To date, more than 10,000 lives have been saved with this system.

To register an EPIRB, go to the Search and Rescue Satellite-aided Tracking Web site or call toll-free (888) 212-7283.

Media Contact:
Patricia Viets, NOAA Satellite Service, (301) 457-5005.