‘The Perfect Storm,’ what it really was, and the real source of that phrase

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We were saddened to read about the sinking of the Tamaroa, the ship involved in a daring rescue during the Halloween Storm of 1991, the so-called Perfect Storm, scuttling dreams of its becoming a floating museum.

In a previous life, the cutter, whose Navy name was The Zuni, won four battle stars in World War II, and of 800 U.S. ships involved in the Iwo Jima invasion, it was the last survivor.

As a Coast Guard vessel, the Tam, it executed its heroism during the powerful North Atlantic cyclone that had ingested Hurricane Grace and mutated into a whorl of destruction.

It famously drowned six people aboard the swordfish boat Andrea Gail off the New England coast, and that tragedy was the subject of the book and movie The Perfect Storm.

In the movie, the phrase is credited to a TV meteorologist. In real life, the creator was a National Weather Service meteorologist, the late Bob Case, who worked in the Boston office.

In an interview with us years ago, he recalled using those words in a 1993 conversation with author Sebastian Junger. Thus, the title for a best-seller was born.

Case was un-resentful that the moviemakers but the words in the mouth of a TV weatherman, however he was unhappy with the way the phrase became overused, and often misused.

He said he was talking about a rarity, if not something unique. To be a perfect storm, a “certain number of meteorological conditions” had to be in place, that “nature had to be in a perfect setup.”

The system actually had its beginnings as a forgettable disturbance in the Ohio Valley migraing toward the Atlantic.

Once off the coast of Nova Scotia, it deepened rapidly, and consumed Grace, and that was “like pouring gasoline into a fire,” said Case.

While it will forever be tied to the Andrea Gail tragedy, the storm had tremendous impacts all along the Northeast coast, inciting massive swells.

It was blamed for $125 million worth of damage to the Jersey Shore, where tide heights topped  those of the devastating Ash Wednesday storm of March 1962.

It also signaled a change in the coastal-storm climate that stirred a debate over whether the nation could hold its shorelines against the onslaughts of storms.

Don’t expect that particular storm to end.

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Philadelphia News & Search

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