The White Hurricane on the Great Lakes on Nov. 9, 1913. Interesting story below...

By: William R. Deedler, Weather Historian, WFO Pontiac/Detroit Mi

Anyone living in the Great Lakes Region for an extended period of
time can become all too familiar with the incredible storms, or
low pressure areas, that can settle over the Great Lakes Region
in the fall. November, being the prime month for such monsters to
start materializing, has had more than its share of super storms.
As Polar outbreaks become more regular and intense, surging south
into the area, they meet up with the warmer, moisture laden air
from the Gulf of Mexico. Add to this a roaring jet stream with
lots of energy and you have the ingredients for dynamic storm

While this occurs with some regularity during fall and winter
months in the Great Lakes, there are probably a dozen or so
mammoth storms which are noted in history for their severity,
creating extensive losses in life and property, particularly to
the shipping industry. While controversy may exist about which
storm was the strongest and produced the most devastation, one
could hardly deny that the fall storm of November 7-12th, 1913
ranks near or at the top! In fact, it is generally agreed that
the November 1913 storm (which concentrated more on Lake Huron
for its death and destruction) was the greatest ever to strike
the Great Lakes. No other Great Lakes storm even begins to
compare in modern history with its death toll of 235 lives
(possibly more, as ship personnel records back then weren't the
best) and up to forty shipwrecks. Of these wrecks, eight were
large Lake freighters that sank below Lake Huron's stormy
surface, taking all hands with them.

The November 1913 weather map pattern of storm development was
ironically, not unlike the storm development of another, more
recent monster low pressure system that formed during the period
of January 25-27th, 1978. Both systems involved an Arctic shot of
cold air moving south across the Lakes area, while at the same
time, an intensifying low pressure area took shape over the
southern Appalachians. In both cases, it was this low center that
became the powerful storm as it tracked north northwest from the
southern Appalachians into the eastern Great Lakes, absorbing the
Arctic air in place. As the Arctic air was drawn into both
storms, rapid intensification took place. (For the more
meteorologically inclined...In the 1978 storm, an incredibly
intense negatively tilted 500 mb trof formed as the Arctic jet
stream phased with the subtropical jet over the eastern half of
the U.S. Though I was unable to locate the 500 mb map from the
1913 storm, the surface development and trajectories of the
systems show a nearly identical upper wind pattern). Both low
pressure systems deepened tremendously ("bombed out") to record
low pressures for their time. The 1913 storm's central pressure
dipped to around 28.60 inches (968.5 mb), while the 1978 storm
intensified to an almost unbelievable 28.20 inches (955 mb)!

There were a couple of big differences, though, between the
storms. First, and most obvious, one occurred in the mid fall,
while the other was in mid winter. Second, and more importantly,
the November 1913 storm was much more destructive to the Great
Lakes shipping industry, being that the lakes were still open
(ice free) and it contained a ferocious wind that howled for a
longer period. Therefore, I decided to dig way back in the
weather and Great Lakes history books and write about the
November 1913 storm. (At this time, I plan a more extensive
write up on the January 1978 storm late January 1997).

As stated earlier, the storm of November 1913 began as two
separate systems. A rather weak low pressure system tracked
east across the southern U.S., November 6th through the 8th,
while a low pressure area and associated Arctic front moved south
out of Canada and approached the northern Great Lakes by Friday
morning, the 7th. The air behind this front was very cold for
early November with temperatures plunging into the single figures
across the Northern Plains. In addition to the cold temperatures,
a strong southwest wind blew out ahead of the Arctic front, while
a strong northwest wind followed it. A storm warning was issued
for the Great Lakes Friday morning at 1000 am because of the very
strong winds expected ahead of and behind the Arctic front. A
large dome of high pressure (30.52 in) was well behind the front
at the core of the cold air, extending from southwest Canada,
south into the northern Rockies. As the low pressure and
attendant Arctic front moved across the Great Lakes on Saturday,
storm force winds gusting 50 knots or better did indeed buffet
the Great Lakes while shifting from southwest to the northwest.
Weather observations at Detroit on Saturday, the 8th, also showed
southwest winds averaging 25 to 35 mph with gusts 35 to 40 mph,
shifting to the west. Temperatures which started in the 50s in
Detroit on the 8th, fell to the lower 30s by midnight. Meanwhile,
winds over the Great Lakes were reported occasionally gusting
better than 50 knots, especially over Lake Superior and were
accompanied by snow squalls and blizzard like conditions. But the
worse was yet to come...

By Sunday morning, the Arctic front continued to push southeast
through the Ohio Valley, while at the same time, our storm center
in the Appalachians was beginning to crank up and intensify
(29.10 in) over northern Virginia. It was during the day, Sunday
the 9th, that things really began to come together. The northern
and weaker low pressure system (with associated Arctic airmass
over the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley) was pulled into and
absorbed by the stronger, intense low pressure system over the
Virginia. As the much colder air fed into system, the storm began
backing to the north-northwest toward its cold air supply,
becoming a meteorological monster, growing and feeding on the
moisture from the Atlantic and mixing it with the Arctic cold
across the Great Lakes.

By Sunday evening, our storm deepened to a very intense central
pressure of about 28.60 inches as it tracked north-northwest
to eastern Lake Erie near Erie, Pennsylvania. At the same time,
the strong Arctic high pressure (30.54 in) was approaching
northwest Minnesota. The isobaric pressure pattern between the
two strong systems must have been very tight, given the extremes
in pressure and thus, created even stronger storm force winds
across the Great Lakes. Storm Warnings continued to fly over all
the Great Lakes as northwest winds of extreme velocity backed to
the north and churned the waters viciously. An extensive area of
snow and blinding snow squalls developed across the Great Lakes
as the Arctic cold blasted its way across the Lakes. Snow began
falling Sunday evening in the Detroit area with about 3 inches
on the ground by midnight and only 4.3 total. Much of this snow
though, was due to "wrap around or backwash precipitation"
produced on the backside of the storm and not Lake effect with
the north-northwest wind trajectory. Eastern areas of the Great
Lakes didn't fare as well and got hammered by snow and snow
squalls as the Arctic cold blew across the relatively warmer
waters of the Great Lakes. (In fact, the Fall weather previous to
this storm had been mild and Great Lake temperatures were most
likely warmer than normal). This, combined with the intense storm
center, buried the Lake effect communities with at least a couple
of feet of snow and HUGE drifts. Port Huron, which usually gets
Lake effect snow from Lake Huron with mainly a northeast or north
wind, got buried with heavy snow and snow squalls creating 4 to 5
foot drifts which immobilized the city. Other areas in the "snow