It was 99 years ago that the first substantial snow of the season hit the U.P. So did the wind, and with it, tragedy on the Great Lakes.
On November 9, 1913, the deadliest November gale in Great Lakes marine history was in full swing. Low pressure moved out of the Northern Rockies into the Upper Great Lakes. The low settled slowly eastward during Saturday the 8th. This movement kept Upper Michigan in the storm's cold northwest quadrant, bringing the first substantial snow along with strong northerly winds to most areas. At Escanaba, the lighthouse keeper wrote: "Wind NNW. During morning hours it increased to a severe snow storm, which raged all day."
Significant snow also fell in Menominee accompanied by winds up to 70 miles an hour. It was the earliest bout of winter that old-timers had seen in many years. Green Bay "presented a beautiful marine spectacle over the entire weekend of the 8th and 9th as the strong winds whipped the waters into a â??lashing frenzy.'"
The strong, shifting winds caught the marine community off guard. Normally, a storm will pass through the Great Lakes and move steadily off to the east or northeast. Winds will blow from the south ahead of the storm and shift to the northwest behind it. The northwesterly gales will blow for a day or so and begin to subside. Not so during the storm known as â??Freshwater Furyâ?? in 1913.
The primary Great Lakes storm began weakening on the 9th while another low took shape over the Mid-Atlantic States. This low quickly strengthened and became the main low as it raced to the north and then began backing west of north. On the morning of the 10th, an intense storm was sitting between Georgian Bay and western Lake Ontario. Lake Captains, assuming the storm was winding down, left port and were surprised by a shift in wind from the northwest back to the north. From there, the wind strengthened to a gale and tragedy ensued. NOAA reanalysis estimates what the upper air looked like as this storm evolved from November 8-10, 1913 (Images 2-4 above).
Over 200 sailors perished, most on Lake Huron as north-northeast winds caught ships on the west end and threw them up on shore or sank them outright. On Lake Superior, the Henry B. Smith, an ore carrier, took off from Marquette Harbor during a lull in the wind and went down. Her exact location remains a mystery to this day.Ironically, the blow of 1913 was a violent anomaly in an otherwise mild fall. November 1913 ended nearly seven degrees above average. The mild weather continued into the following winter. In fact, both November and December were the warmest such months in the 30 years between 1910 and 1930.