The storms most studied by climatologists have been those that are most easily understood by taking atmospheric measurements. Hurricanes and tornadoes, for example, are spatially confined, the forces that drive them are highly concentrated, and they have distinctive forms and readily quantifiable characteristics. Consequently, data about them are abundant, and their behavior is relatively well understood, although still difficult to predict.
Hurricanes and tornadoes are also studied because they are highly destructive storms, and knowledge about their behavior can help minimize injury to people and property. But other equally destructive storms have not been so thoroughly researched, perhaps because they are more difficult to study. A primary example is the northeaster, a type of coastal storm that causes significant damage along the eastern coast of North America. Northeasters, whose diffuse nature makes them difficult to categorize, are relatively weak low-pressure systems with winds that rarely acquire the strength of even the smallest hurricane. Although northeasters are perceived to be less destructive than other storms, the high waves associated with strong northeasters can cause damage comparable to that of a hurricane, because they can affect stretches of coast more than 1,500 kilometers long, whereas hurricanes typically threaten a relatively small ribbon of coastline--roughly 100 to 150 kilometers.