Legacy of the Storm
The 1913 Storm in the History of Great Lakes Maritime Disasters
Since the sinking of the French trading vessel Griffon in 1679 on Lake Michigan, one of the first shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, thousands of other ships have met a similar fate. Although there have been many shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, what made the White Hurricane event of 1913 unique was the number of shipwrecks that occurred in that storm and the number of fatalities. Here are some comparisons between the White Hurricane of 1913 versus several other notable marine disasters in the past 100 years on the Great Lakes.
Ships built prior to 1948 used a type of steel in their hulls that became brittle below 33 degrees. This likely contributed at least partially to their demise, during the twisting and turning encountered on the choppy waves. A common theme associated with many 20th century shipwrecks were high waves churned up at the end of a long wind fetch across the water.
Mataafa Storm (November 28, 1905): Named after the steamer ship Mataafa which wrecked just outside of the Duluth harbor. Lake Superior suffered the brunt of this storm which lasted for twelve hours with winds up to 60 mph. A total of 29 ships were damaged or wrecked resulting in 33 fatalities. Another 17 ships were left stranded.
Armistice Day Storm (November 11, 1940): Known at the “Armistice Day Storm,” because it struck on November 11th the anniversary of the end of World War I, this storm hit especially hard in Lake Michigan with winds up to 80 mph and reports of 30 ft waves. A total of five ships were lost with 66 deaths.
Carl D. Bradley sinking (November, 18, 1958): The 639 foot long Carl D. Bradley freight was hit by a major storm on Lake Michigan about 12 miles southwest of Gull Island. Battered by 70 mph winds and 30 ft waves the Carl D. Bradley went down. Only 2 of the 35 man crew survived.
Daniel J. Morrell sinking (November 29, 1966): The Daniel J. Morrell was headed for the safety of Thunder Bay when a November gale overcame it on Lake Huron. With 70 mph winds and 25 ft waves the Morrell split in two and sank off of Pointe Aux Barques on Michigan’s Thumb. 28 crew members died.
Edmund Fitzgerald (November 10, 1975): At 729 feet long, the Fitzgerald is the largest ship to ever sink on the Great Lakes. In transit to a steel mill near Detroit Michigan the Fitzgerald was hit by a storm with 70 mph winds and 40 foot waves on eastern Lake Superior. 29 men died in the wreckage.
The November storms of the Great Lakes have led to many disasters but none so devastating as the White Hurricane of 1913. The storm included 35 foot waves and northerly hurricane force wind gusts. With over 12 ships destroyed and 31 crippled the storm claimed more lives than all of the other major Great Lakes maritime disasters combined. Financial loss in ships and cargo totaled estimated at $117 million in today’s currency.
Page content prepared by James Keysor (NOAA National Weather Service Meteorologist) and John Boris (NOAA National Weather Service Meteorologist).