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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Halloween Storm of 1991

Picture of the storm, 1991 along the "Backshore" of Gloucester
In 1991, a hurricane formed inside a Nor'easter as the result of 3 large weather masses colliding. "The Halloween Storm", has been also been referred to as the "Unnamed Storm" because the storm itself, was a trilogy of weather events which only occurs every 50 to 100 years.  It is actually, the 8th storm never to be named.  The massive storm was the last of 4 hurricanes that occurred that year during the Atlantic hurricane season.  October has traditionally been the month when hurricanes and storms can brew, and it is particularly dangerous for fishing vessels. 

On a personal note....

I moved to Gloucester, in January of 2001, just about a decade after the Storm.  The book, "The Perfect Storm" had been published by Sebastian Junger in 1997, and the movie of the same title, had just been released in June of 2000.  

The Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center was in its infancy, and I spent a lot of time volunteering there.  It was there, that the Lady Grace, the fishing vessel who portrayed the Andrea Gail in the movie was docked.  I remember that all of the wood that had been used by Warner Brothers to reinforce the dock to support its crew and movie-gear in the surrounding area was still in place.  Locally, the city was abuzz with the release of the movie, and the locals wasted no time in separating fact from fiction.  I was fortunate enough to learn the facts.  Meanwhile, the Lady Grace was docked in front of the Schooner Adventure, and there she stayed for a few years.

Source:  myweb.northshore.edu

I don't remember who, but after about a year of giving tours to visitors from all over the world, someone finally gave me a tour of inside of fishing vessel, the Lady Grace.  I was able to walk into bridge, and to see the fish holds and the engine room.  I remember seeing painted rust and how it felt incredibly sad to me, as all I could think of was the reason WHY the boat was here, and it's purpose at that time.  I kind of choked up, and felt genuine heartbreak for the Andrea Gail.  It is now strange to remember that at that time, I had thought about size of the vessel, and how easily the Andrea Gail could be at the mercy of such a storm, in such a big sea.  

I had personally witnessed a very large storm in March of 2001, where the sea had risen to such an extent, (about 20 feet) it was actually breaking at road level on the Back-Shore of Gloucester's Eastern Point. The road had been blocked off by authorities and I stood about a block above it, watching the intensity of the sea toss and roll it's foamy waves while white caps broke far into the horizon.  It was very exciting, and very frightening at the same time.  

I suppose the book and the movie, will forever drive the economy of Gloucester, and that's a good thing.  I respectfully ask that those who visit Cape Ann, will take a moment to pause at the famous Fisherman's Statue, and the Fisherman's Wives statue, along Stacey's Boulevard to remember all that were lost at sea, respectfully.

The Trilogy of the Storm

I.   On October 27, 1991, Hurricane Grace had formed off the coast of Florida. As she moved north on October 29, an extratropical cyclone formed over Canada. "The counterclockwise motion of this low pressure zone left a trailing cold front over much of the Northern Atlantic coast. The cold front would later catch up with the dying hurricane. Grace would later make the retrograde turn to the east in response."

II.   "A low pressure system formed over Canada and ran into Hurricane Grace off the coast of Nova Scotia tearing the already-downgraded hurricane apart. There was intense wind shear that acted as a hurricane-breaker, but the low pressure system absorbed much of the energy of Hurricane Grace. The low pressure system reached a peak intensity of 972 millibars of pressure and maximum sustained winds of 60 knots on October 30. The later movement of this low pressure system over warmer 80+ degree Gulf Stream waters served to intensify the storm in the same way tropical storms are intensified by warm ocean waters in the tropics."

III.  A strong, high pressure "center extended from the Gulf of Mexico northeastward along the Appalachians into Greenland. Strong winds were generated from the tight pressure gradient between a strong high pressure center in eastern Canada and the surface low."  Source: weather.about.com

13 people died.

In Massachusetts, over 100 homes were destroyed mainly in Marshfield, North Beach and Brant Point.

25 foot waves along with the high tide were 4 feet above normal.

It has been stated that the damage rivaled the infamous "Blizzard of 1978", with the tide being recorded as only 1 foot less than the famous Blizzard.

Approximately 38,000 people were without electric power.

Rivers flooded as tides increased, and a buoy near Nova Scotia publicized the highest wave ever recorded at 100.7 feet!

Near Long Island, an Air National Guard helicopter crashed as the result of running out of fuel.  Of the helicopter's crew of 4, one died.

High waves took the lives of 2 people in Rhode Island and Puetro Rico, and another person was swept away off a bridge due to high winds and was killed.

Slick roads in Newfoundland caused another person to die in a car crash, relating to the storm.

Remembering the Andrea Gail

The Andrea Gail was a commercial fishing vessel that sank, during the "Perfect Storm" of 1991.  All  6 passengers were forever lost at sea.

The Andrea Gail was 72 feet in length and was built in Panama City, Florida in 1978.  Its owner was Robert Brown, who originally named the boat Miss Penny.  The fishing vessel called its home port Marblehead, Massachusetts, but she also sailed from Gloucester, and this is from where she left on her final voyage.

It is believed that during the last time that the boat fished, they had had a very successful run.  Surely, the Captain had gained information about the storm(s) but had most likely planned on beating it back to the safety of shore.  Though, we will never know the exact circumstances of her demise, we do know that the crew of the Andrea Gail found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time; which was, right smack in the middle of the "beast".

Tragically, the Captain had to make a decision.  Having a full cargo of swordfish, the Andrea Gail was faced with the ultimate choice.  It had to seek safe haven in quieter waters as it faced the storm or try to continue to shore.  Either way, it was like a tiny buoy that had been ripped from its anchor in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean and left to the fate of the storm gods.

Inside the bridge of the Andrea Gail (source: Pinterest)
She was last reported to be in the vicinity of Sable Island on October 28, 1991.   Captain Billy Tyne gave his last coordinates to Captain Linda Greenlaw as 44°00′N 56°40′W - which is roughly 162 miles east of Sable Island. At that time, he reported waves between 30 to 40 feet, and wind gusts up to 80 knots, which would be about 150 mph.  I believe Sebastian Junger, author of the book "The Perfect Storm", made an analogy to picture a 4 story house coming at you.

Crew of the Andrea Gail

Frank W. "Billy" Tyne, Jr. (Captain), aged 34 from Gloucester, Massachusetts

Michael "Bugsy" Moran, aged 36, Florida

Dale R. "Murph" Murphy, aged 30, Bradenton Beach, Florida

Alfred Pierre, aged 32,  New York City

Robert F. "Bobby" Shatford, aged 30,  Gloucester, Massachusetts

David "Sully" Sullivan, aged 29, Gloucester, Massachusetts

Photo Credits for the storm, storm damage, crew, and of the Andrea Gail, above: dingeengoete.blogspot.com/2012/10/this-day-in-history-oct-30-1991-perfect.html