'Frankenstorm' Vs. Perfect Storm 1991: How Does Hurricane Sandy Compare?

By Amir Khan on October 26, 2012 9:31 AM EDT

Frankenstorm vs. Perfect Storm 1991
The Frankenstorm is drawing comparisons to the Perfect Storm of 1991 (Photo: NOAA)

Frankenstorm is coming, and it's drawing a great deal of comparison to the 1991 Perfect Storm, which pounded the East Coast for several days before finally dissipating. But just how does the Frankenstorm compare to the 1991 Perfect Storm?

The 1991 Perfect Storm, also known as the Halloween Nor'easter of 1991, started off as Hurricane Grace, which developed in the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Grace collided with a nor'easter, and the abrupt temperature change from the cold air of the nor'easter colliding with Hurricane Grace created the 1991 Perfect Storm.

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"These circumstances alone, could have created a strong storm," Bob Case, a now-retired meteorologist, told the NOAA "But then, like throwing gasoline on a fire, a dying hurricane Grace delivered immeasurable tropical energy to create the Perfect Storm."

The 1991 Perfect Storm developed winds peaking to 70 mph with very heavy rain and waves as high as 100 feet.

"It was difficult for us to convey the magnitude of the event to the public," Case said. "Not too many people could fathom-or believe-100-foot waves and hurricane force winds, 70-80 miles-per-hour plus, in a storm that was heading from east to west. You were looking at a set of meteorological circumstances that come together maybe every 50-100 years."

But 50 years may have come sooner, as the Frankenstorm is eerily similar to the 1991 Perfect Storm - and it may even be worse, as the Frankenstorm is going to hit heavily populated areas, which the 1991 Perfect Storm did not.

"It's almost a weeklong, five-day, six-day event. It's going to be a widespread serious storm," Jim Cisco, a government forecaster, said, according to Time. "We don't have many modern precedents for what the models are suggesting."

Jeff Masters, with Weather Underground, said in a statement that the Frankenstorm the could potentially be devastating.

In this scenario, Sandy would be able to bring sustained winds near hurricane force over a wide stretch of heavily populated coast, causing massive power outages, as trees still in leaf fall and take out power lines. Sandy is expected to have tropical storm-force winds that extend out more than 300 miles from the center, which will drive a much larger storm surge than its winds would ordinarily suggest. The full moon is on Monday, which means astronomical tides will be at their peak for the month, increasing potential storm surge flooding. Fresh water flooding from heavy rains would also be a huge concern.

Will Komaromi, a researcher at the University of Miami, said the Frankenstorm could be much worse than the 1991 Perfect Storm.

"Most of the models now indicate even stronger jet dynamics will occur next week than occurred during for the Perfect Storm, and that today's storm could potentially deepen to well below 960 mb or even below 950 mb. The fact that the Gulf Stream is anomalously warm for this time of year means that Sandy will weaken less as a tropical system," he said. "The Perfect Storm only did $200 million of damage and I'm thinking a billion. Yeah, it will be worse."

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