GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 26, 2012

'Historical' storm warnings

Sandy, other systems remind forecasters of 'Perfect Storm'

By Marjorie Nesin Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Hurricane Sandy blew out of Cuba Thursday, rushing toward Gloucester and Cape Ann — and ready to deliver a potential hit to this region on Tuesday’s 21st anniversary of the 1991 “Perfect Storm.”

And with predicted winds of 74 miles per hour and waves expected to reach 25 feet, the storm blowing in could be comparable to the storm that slammed Cape Ann and other parts of New England, and claimed the fishing vessel Andrea Gail in 1991, meteorologists said Thursday.

”Right now, this is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening storm ... If it strikes, this is going to be similar to the Perfect Storm,” said meteorologist Charlie Foley of the National Weather Service.

The storm now commonly referred to as the Perfect Storm blew in on Oct. 30,1991, swallowing the Andrea Gail and the lives of the six men aboard. That so-called “storm of the century” was a deadly combination of three weather fronts composed of southward-moving arctic energy which collided with a northward-moving tropical storm combined with an offshore Atlantic storm. The meteorological phenomena began developing over the western Atlantic on Oct. 26, 1991, hitting its peak on Oct. 30, and finally passing through by Nov. 1.

This type of storm rarely strikes southern New England in October, according to Tom Kines, senior meteorologist at Accuweather. But Tuesday’s storm package, fueled by Hurricane Sandy, would be an almost copycat of that storm, according to Kines.

Kines said that, in addition to Hurricane Sandy headed toward Gloucester, another front in the central U.S. is pushing northeastward, and a third disturbance should be shifting in this direction today — meaning that all three storm systems could meet up in or just off Massachusetts Tuesday, with the two storm systems luring the hurricane inward.

”All three of those will join forces early in the week and those are all going to be key ingredients in producing what looks like a once in a lifetime storm,” Kines said.

Kines and Foley both said the hurricane could also veer off into the ocean, avoiding the land.

But Kines said, “It might look like it’s going out to sea and, at the last minute, change its mind.”

Hurricane Sandy’s winds and rain could lessen by Tuesday to revoke its hurricane title. Still, Kines said, hurricane or not, the potential damage, on land and in the water could be bad, including erosion to beaches and roadways, power outages, downed trees and boats slipped free of their moorings. While the 1991 storm is best remembered for the sinking of the Andrea Gail, the storm also did widespread damage across Cape Ann, most notably in Magnolia.

”I don’t think we need to get caught up on whether it’s a hurricane or not, because whether or not it’s a hurricane, the damage it could potentially do is going to be bad,” Kines said.

Thursday, the U.S Coast Guard’s Station Gloucester, the Northeastern Mass. chapter of the American Red Cross and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) are preparing for the worst-case scenario.

When a storm hits, the Coast Guard displays flags warning of each level of the storm. For a hurricane warning, the Coast Guard will hoist two red flags connected to each other, each with a black square.

A storm warning warrants a red flag with one black square. To warn boaters of a gale, the Coast Guard flies two red flags, each with a black triangle, and the guard pulls a red flag with one triangle for a small craft advisory.

Gloucester fisherman Russell Sherman said Thursday that, flag or no flag at the Coast Guard station, he plans to keep his boats at home until Wednesday, double tying the lanyards, battening the hatches, and checking on the boats regularly.

”We’ll double the lines up and get ready,” Sherman said.

Sherman said a big storm could make for a good catch for fishermen, stirring up the ocean’s bottom, and tempting large amounts of fish to eat up right before and right after the storm strikes.

”It could be a blessing in disguise,” Sherman said.

The Coast Guard and emergency agencies are urging boat owners to pull their vessels from the water if possible, bring in outdoor furniture, trim trees that could fall, and make sure to store non perishable food at home. Red Cross and MEMA have both launched smartphone apps that help users track the storms. The agencies are also encouraging people to keep vehicles’ gasoline tanks filled, and have some cash on hand because ATMs and credit card readers cannot function without electricity oftentimes.

Peter Judge of MEMA said Thursday that people should begin preparing for the storm immediately.

”We just got off a conference call with the National Weather Service and they said this could be a storm of historical proportions,” Judge said. “So in that regard, we have to ask people to take some serious steps right now.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.

READERS Share your photos of the storm when it hits Cape Ann here on our new reader photo gallery, under Weather: http://smu.gs/PSA6fw