Released on June 30, 2000, and starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, The Perfect Storm tells the story of a group of New England fishermen who are caught at sea by a massive storm. The movie, which grossed over three hundred million dollars at the box office, was based on a 1997 book by the same name which, in turn, was based on actual events.
On October 23, 1991, Hurricane Grace formed off the coast of Bermuda. In the beginning, she was little more than an area of low pressure with some subtropical characteristics. Though the storm lacked convection, which is essential to the formation of a hurricane. By October 26, she had absorbed a bank of clouds near Bermuda and was given tropical storm status by NOAA.
In theory, Grace is thought to have peaked at a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, but in practice, she may have been a high end Category 1. She moved northwest toward the eastern seaboard of the United States, as most hurricanes are wont to do, and would have struck as a fairly weak storm had she not collided with a nor’easter formed along an approaching cold front of New England. The two merged on October 28, and thus the perfect storm was born.
The resultant mega-storm, combined with unusually high tides, battered the Mid-Atlantic and New England with monster waves, lashing winds, and pelting rain. Particularly hard hit were Massachusetts and New Jersey. In Boston, 14 foot storm surges were reported. In Chatam, Massachusetts, winds peaked at 78 miles per hour. 30 foot waves assailed the coast of Maine, flooding and blowing out the windows of a vacation home owned by George H.W. Bush, who was President at the time.
In all, seven states were severely affected, with damage totaling over $200 million dollars. Homes, businesses, and beachfront properties from North Carolina to Maine were either damaged or destroyed. High winds left nearly forty thousand people up and down the coast without power. Thirteen people were killed, including the six fishermen whose story would inspire The Perfect Storm.
Atlantic Canada was also impacted; the nor’easter, which had totally absorbed Grace, turned into another hurricane (never named) right before making landfall in Nova Scotia. Sustained wind gusts of 68 miles per hour were reported in Newfoundland, and almost forty traffic accidents were attributed to wet roads. Sadly, one was fatal.
Following the storm, President Bush declared several New England and Mid-Atlantic counties disaster areas. The American Red Cross was also quick to offer help, allocating over one million dollars to help a dozen families who had lost everything in the storm.
Despite the death and damage, it caused, the perfect storm could have been much, much worse. The more extreme elements of it, thankfully, remained offshore.
Which is where the crew of the Andrea Gail come in.
Piloted by skipper Frank W. "Billy" Tyne Jr., the Andrea Gail was a commercial fishing boat whose last haul didn’t live up to expectations. Tyne convinced his men to accompany him on one final trip for the season, hoping to make a bigger catch. They left for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland just ahead of the storm. Tyne indeed found better fishing, but the ship’s freezer malfunctioned, and Tyne made the decision to rush back to land rather than lose his catch.
The Andrea Gail was last heard from around 6:00pm on the evening of October 28, when she radioed a sister ship to report 30 foot waves and near 90 miles per hour winds. Aside from a smattering of wreckage, neither she nor her crew were ever seen again.