The weather enjoys causing mischief on Halloween. Even though this day isn’t typically a traveling holiday in the United States, the weather can still determine whether it’s a fun night of costumes and sweets or a rainy mess that can ruin weeks of excitement and preparation. Thankfully, Halloween 2016 looks spectacular across most of the United States. As of Friday October 28, the forecast for October 31 anticipates a familiar scenario these days—a ridge of high pressure will blanket most of the country with calm and warmer-than-normal temperatures, with wet weather creeping through the Upper Midwest and northern Rocky Mountains. The Northeast will be chilly for trick-or-treaters, but it pales in comparison to the spooky weather that can plague people celebrating this fun day. Here’s a look at some not-too-thrilling storms that made for scary times in years past.
1. THE PERFECT STORM, 1991
A weather map from the morning of October 31, 1991, showing the Perfect Storm off the coast of New Jersey and a developing blizzard over the central Plains. Image Credit: NOAA
Few storms have reached the legendary status of the Perfect Storm, a ghoulish nor’easter/hurricane hybrid that meandered off the East Coast of the United States for a few days around Halloween in 1991. The storm began as a nor’easter—a strong type of low-pressure system named for the powerful northeasterly winds they bring to the coast—off the Canadian Maritimes, collecting its strength both from strong upper-level winds and by absorbing the remnants of Hurricane Grace. The nor’easter briefly developed into an unnamed hurricane, adding to both its intensity and unusual nature.
Forecasters at the time said that the storm formed in “perfect” conditions (hence its nickname) to cause headaches up and down the coast. The storm’s strong winds generated enormous waves and caused destructive coastal flooding as far south as North Carolina. The storm produced a 5-foot storm surge in Boston, Massachusetts, and waves there reached the height of a three-story building. Thirteen people died during The Perfect Storm—six of them perished when a ship named the Andrea Gail encountered rough waves. This tragedy at sea would become the basis for the 1997 book The Perfect Storm and the popular 2000 film of the same name.
2. THE HALLOWEEN BLIZZARD OF 1991
The Perfect Storm wasn’t the only hazard on Halloween in 1991. While that torrent churned over the western Atlantic Ocean, another powerful storm was developing a few thousand miles to the west over the center of the United States. A strong low-pressure system quickly got its act together during the day on Halloween as it raced northeast toward the Great Lakes, dragging bitterly cold air south from Canada while pumping tropical moisture north from the Gulf of Mexico.
This combination of high moisture and freezing air led to copious amounts of snow in the Upper Midwest, falling so hard and so fast that many folks couldn’t go out trick-or-treating that night. By the time the skies cleared out a day or two later, residents found their towns buried under historic amounts of snow. The airport that serves Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, measured 28.4 inches of snow by the end of the storm, an all-time record for one snowstorm that still stands today. In the far northeastern corner of the state, Duluth, Minnesota, recorded just over three feet of snow—36.9 inches—making it the highest snowfall total ever recorded in one storm in the entire state of Minnesota.
3. THE HALLOWEEN NOR’EASTER, 2011
A blanket of snow across the Northeast on October 30, 2011. Image Credit: MODIS Today
October is a rough time to live in the Northeast. Kids growing up on the East Coast are used to having a more volatile Halloween than their counterparts around the rest of the country, as they found out in 2011 when a nor’easter dropped 1 to 2 feet of snow on communities from Virginia to Maine.
It usually doesn’t get cold enough to see much more than flurries in the Mid-Atlantic or lower elevations in the Northeast until after Thanksgiving, but a strong nor’easter barreled its way up the coast just before Halloween and snowed its way into the history books. The cold air that spiraled around the back of the storm tapped into deep tropical moisture to produce a heavy, wet snow across areas that still hadn’t seen all of the leaves fall off the trees. The weight of the leaves and the wet snow easily brought down trees and power lines, knocking out power for several weeks in the hardest-hit areas. The storm reportedly caused more than $3 billion in damages. Many kids in the affected areas couldn’t go trick-or-treating after the storm, forcing many communities to cancel Halloween activities or put them off until crews could clear away the snow and debris.
4. HURRICANE SANDY, 2012
A visible satellite image of Hurricane Sandy on October 28, 2012. Image Credit: NOAA/NASA
Things got even worse in the Northeast just one year later. One of the worst hurricanes to strike the United States in the past two decades was Hurricane Sandy, an unusual storm that also took advantage of “perfect” conditions in order to turn into a colossal disaster for tens of millions of people.
Hurricane Sandy approached a complicated environment over the Northeast during the last few days of October in 2012. As the category 1 hurricane drew closer to the New Jersey coast, it gradually lost its tropical characteristics as it started to feed its energy from the jet stream above rather than thunderstorms at the center of the storm. Once the hurricane reached shore, it had transitioned into what was essentially the most powerful nor’easter ever recorded. This transition from a large hurricane into an even larger nor’easter raked damaging winds over an area nearly 1000 miles wide at the storm’s largest extent, an immense wind field that pushed a historic and deadly storm surge into the coast.
The evacuations and damage from the storm forced Halloween to the backburner for many coastal communities, but the storm didn’t stop at the coast. During the day on Halloween, the remnants of Hurricane Sandy continued pushing inland, making the evening a cold, dreary, and sometimes snowy mess for the Appalachians and Great Lakes region.