Monday, November 11, 2013

The Gales of November and the Great Lakes Storm of 1913

'The Gales of November' or 'Witch of November' are but two terms used to report the peak of the Great Lakes storm season.  Mariners have long known and feared these terms used to describe the rapidly changing and often brutal weather conditions affecting the lakes.  The Lake Erie Gale of 1811 was the earliest record of a ship bound from Buffalo to Sandusky meeting its demise to this storied storm.  In 1835 the Comet and Godolphin were lost near Fairport, Ohio due to a similar weather uprising.  Black Friday took place on October 20, 1916 and the fates of four vessels were lost to time.  Of course the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 was immortalized in song by Canadian songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.  Today's blog examines the 'Big Blow', 'Freshwater Fury', 'White Hurricane' that occurred from November 7 thru November 10, 1913.  Reaching its peak on November 9th, the storm overturned ships on four of the five lakes, left 250 lives lost, destroyed 19 ships, and stranded 19 others.

The Prelude:
On November 6th, The Detroit News called for a storm of moderate strength to begin shortly.  The combination of warm lake waters and Canadian cold fronts heading southbound would be like none before.
The Storm:
November 7-  Hurricane winds develop and blizzard-like conditions arise on Lake Huron.
November 8-  The storm was upgraded to severe.  A brief false lull tempted many captains on the St. Marys River, Lake Erie, Detroit, and St. Clair River to disregard the warning.
November 9- This 24 hour period marked the peak of the storm's fury.  Rotating winds from Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo combine with the exisiting conditions to magnify the forces exponentially.
November 10/11th-  The Storm reached London, Ontario.  Day two saw the storm lose power to the warm waters of the Great Lakes.  Cleveland, Ohio suffered a 17 inch snowfall to record 6 foot accumulations in the downtown area.  Power was lost and destruction rampant.  Cleveland's fate was repeated in many other ports along the lakes.
The Aftermath:
This 'Witch of November' lasted over 16 hours at its peak, nearly 11 hours longer than average.  Thirty-eight ships suffered the wrath of the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 and over 5 million dollars of losses were reported.  The bell tolled 250 for the lives lost.

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