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FRESH WATER FURY...

Over the weekend a significant storm blew up over Lake Michigan known as a fresh water fury. These tempests have a long history of disrupting shipping on the Great Lakes during the fall when they bring the dynamics of cold upper air troughs into the summer warmed waters of the lakes . When conditions are favorable, explosive development takes place and heavy wind swept rain (and snow) is the end result.

That’s exactly what happened in November of 1913, when an Arctic front swept into the Great Lakes region and collided with warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico. The combination gave birth to the storm that would later be known as “The White Hurricane” or “The Freshwater Fury” An added dimension were the warm waters of the Great Lakes themselves. The tremendous amounts of energy contained within all these elements would cause the greatest natural disaster to ever hit the Great Lakes. 95 mph winds, 35 foot waves, and heavy snow in some areas prompted the standing moniker of "White Hurricane". According to records, about 250 lives and 25 ships were lost to the storm. Many ships sunk, and several were also damaged beyond repair due to the inadequate forecasts of the day.

Waves breaking along the shore of Lake Michigan in the 1913 storm.

Surface map November 10, 1913 after the intense storm had exited the Great Lakes and entered Canada.


Along the shorelines of Lake Erie and Huron, blizzards stopped traffic and communication, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Cleveland received 22 inches (56 cm) of heavy snow combined with sustained winds of 62 mph (100 km/h) with gusts to 79 mph (127 km/h) and ice formation. There were four-foot (120 cm) snowdrifts around Lake Huron. Electricity supply was disrupted for several days across Michigan and Ontario, cutting off telephone and telegraph communications. A recently completed US$100,000 breakwater at Chicago, which was intended to protect the Lincoln Park basin from storms, was swept away in a few hours. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin, harbor lost its south breakwater and much of the surrounding South Park area that had been recently renovated.


The November 11 Plain Dealer described the aftermath: "Cleveland lay in white and mighty solitude, mute and deaf to the outside world, a city of lonesome snowiness, storm-swept from end to end, when the violence of the two-day blizzard lessened late yesterday afternoon." William H. Alexander, Cleveland's chief weather forecaster, commented,

Take it all in all—the depth of the snowfall, the tremendous wind, the amount of damage done and the total unpreparedness of the people—I think it is safe to say that the present storm is the worst experienced in Cleveland during the whole forty-three years the U.S. Weather Bureau has been established in the city.

Bodies washed ashore near Goderich, Ontario

Locations where ships were lost or stranded during the storm.


THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD 1975

Another storm with very similar characteristics lashed the Great Lakes November 10th, 1975. Winds of 70 mph with gusts to 86 along with seas of 30-35 feet was experienced. The great tragedy of the storm was the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald of which Gordon Lightfoot memorialized in the 1976 hit song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The entire crew of 29 men were lost to the storm approximately 15 miles from Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior. If you haven't heard the song is does a remarkable job of capturing the intensity, timeline, and fear the crew was facing. Here's the lyrics which in my opinion are exceptional. It's really a haunting song.


The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead When the skies of November turn gloomy With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most With a crew and good captain well seasoned Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms When they left fully loaded for Cleveland And later that night when the ship's bell rang Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound And a wave broke over the railing And every man knew, as the captain did too T'was the witch of November come stealin' The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait When the gales of November came slashin' When afternoon came it was freezin' rain In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin' "Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya" At seven PM, a main hatchway caved in, he said "Fellas, it's been good to know ya" The captain wired in he had water comin' in And the good ship and crew was in peril And later that night when his lights went outta sight Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does any one know where the love of God goes When the waves turn the minutes to hours? The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her They might have split up or they might have capsized They may have broke deep and took water And all that remains is the faces and the names Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings In the rooms of her ice-water mansion Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams The islands and bays are for sportsmen And farther below Lake Ontario Takes in what Lake Erie can send her And the iron boats go as the mariners all know With the gales of November remembered

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed In the maritime sailors' cathedral The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee Superior, they said, never gives up her dead When the gales of November come early


The Edmund Fitzgerald, 729 feet long and 39 feet high. In 1958 it was the largest ship on the Great Lakes and to this day is the largest to ever sink on it.

The surface map showing the deepening low passing through the Great Lakes.


AN EARLY GREAT LAKES FURY

This past weekend we experienced an early season fury. It wasn't nearly as intense as the late fall versions but considering it did not have November's cold air to fuel it, it was impressive. You can see the big donut and what appears to be an eye like feature in satellite imagery over southern Lake Michigan Monday morning. Note the tight circulation wrapping moisture into the center producing heavy rains and gusty winds.

This is data from a buoy located in Lake Michigan. What's fascinating is the dramatic pressure drop from September 11th to the 12th. Clearly as the storm approached the buoy it was rapidly deepening its pressure plunging from 30.02 inches to 29.61 in less than 24 hours time (in green). In red, winds gusted to over 50 mph and were sustained close to 40. Models gave no indication of such dramatic intensification.