White Hurricane

the Great Lakes in winter

“White Hurricane” by Lou Blouin of FoundMichigan.org

An excellent story of an epic storm that struck the Great Lakes 100 years ago today.

Modern weather forecasting was in its infancy. At the time, basic weather observations were gathered by hand by people scattered across the country, like human instruments, then wired back to the Weather Bureau in Washington, DC, where it was all compiled, analyzed for patterns and clues, regurgitated, codified, and wired back. These “forecasts” were a half day or more out of date by the time they arrived. Fast changing conditions simply charged through the open cracks. The warnings of a major storm sometimes arrived after the storm did.

That’s what happened in 1913. A fierce arctic gale out of Canada crashed into a warm gulf front pouring over the Appalachians. The collision occurred over the Great Lakes, and caught the whole region by surprise, exploding into a storm never seen before. Two feet of snow fell overnight. Winds went from balmy to hurricane force within the span of a half hour, whipping up waves 35 feet high. Ships and sailors on the notoriously dangerous waters were caught vulnerable and woefully unprepared for what lay in store.

By the time it was done, 12 major ships and over 250 men were lost in this single storm – more than in all the seasons of the decade before combined. Bodies of sailors washed up on the shores for days, as did parts of their ships, often scribbled with their forlorn farewells to loved ones.

A great story well told, well worth a read.


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