Superstorm Sandy brought gusts of 90mph and a record surge of seawater in New York City.
The hurricane made landfall at the southern tip of New Jersey at 8pm local time (midnight UK time), before causing massive disruption across a wide area, said senior meteorologist Stephen Davenport, of MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association.
A storm surge of 13.7ft (4.2m) hit Manhattan in New York City, comfortably beating the previous record of 10.5ft (3.2m) set in 1960 by Hurricane Donna.
The highest wind gust was recorded as 90mph on Long Island, New York. Newark International Airport in New Jersey experienced winds of 78mph.
"The extent of the wind is something else," Mr Davenport said. "It's at least 1988 since tropical storm force winds have covered such a wide area of the USA."
The National Weather Service issued high wind warnings from Michigan to Florida and from Chicago to Maine.
"That is a massive area of storm force winds" Mr Davenport said.
Up to 7.9in (20cm) of rain fell in some places, with New Jersey and Delaware the worst hit. As much as 30in (76cm) of snow hit the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia.
Meanwhile, low pressure records were set in Atlantic City in New Jersey, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and Wilmington in Delaware.
Mr Davenport said: "For a storm in that part of the USA it was pretty well unprecedented.
"It is unknown in anyone's lifetime, and probably greater than any storm that has been recorded in that part of the mid-Atlantic and the north west."
Forecasters expect the storm to weaken as it moves north-eastwards.
"Storms are at their strongest as they come ashore. There will be torrential rain in eastern parts of Ohio and in Pennsylvania, but it will start weakening.
"It's a gradual process but we are past the highest wind strength," Mr Davenport added.