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NOAA'S NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE LOOKS BACK ON THE PERFECT STORM

NOAA image of rogue wave off Charleston, S.C.October 31, 2001 — The conditions were "perfect" for a monstrous storm, a meteorological time bomb that exploded in the Northern Atlantic ten years ago this week producing waves ten stories high and hammering the coast from Canada to the Caribbean, according to NOAA's National Weather Service. (NOAA image of rogue wave off Charleston, S.C.)

The storm imperiled the New England fishing fleet and rallied one of the most intense marine rescue operations in history. "We were looking at a set of meteorological circumstances that come together maybe every 30 to 50 years," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Rick Watling as he looked back on the "perfect storm."

When Watling issued the first forecast for this powerful storm from the weather service's Boston forecast office, New England was enjoying unusually nice autumn weather with plenty of sunshine and a northeast breeze. "I remember thinking that something really bad was about to happen," Watling said.

Offshore, the ingredients were coming together for a storm that would come to be known as "perfect" for its proficiency in developing into one of Mother Nature's most menacing weather systems. For Watling and his colleagues, the signs were evident: A low pressure system moving off the coast, a disturbance in the upper levels of the atmosphere, and, "like gas on a fire," both systems encountering a dying hurricane with
immeasurable tropical energy.

Also known as the "Halloween Storm" for its late October arrival, it was a combination of atmospheric conditions that meteorologists will never forget. Ross Dickman, another NWS meteorologist who worked the storm, remembers seeing waves crashing over the seawall at Winthrop, Mass., sending spray a hundred feet in the air.

"The perfect storm's impact up and down the seaboard was felt through huge surf and extraordinarily high tides," Dickman said. Seaside communities lost homes and beachfront and coastal erosion was the storm's legacy. But offshore, where the storm spent its entire life cycle, the situation was dire.

The annals of weather history are well served by movies such as the "Perfect Storm" and documentaries recounting the stories of the rescues, the rescuers and those who lost their lives in this cataclysmic event. The sinking of the Andrea Gail fishing boat out of Gloucester, Mass., is etched into our meteorological consciousness, as is the loss of the Air National Guard helicopter and crew member who braved the tempest in the
aid of others.

And for the meteorologists of NOAA's National Weather Service, it was a storm to tell about, study, and hopefully learn from in case our atmosphere is ever again in such a perfect alignment.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Meteorologists Recall Drama of Forecasting "The Perfect Storm"

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

NOAA's Satellite Images of the "Perfect Storm"

1991 Unnamed Hurricane

Media Contact:
Robert Chartuk, NOAA's National Weather Service Eastern Region, (631) 244-0166