100 years ago: The 'White Hurricane' - Worst winter storm to ever hit the Great Lakes

DETROIT (WXYZ) - It's called the White Hurricane. Sounds dramatic, right?

Well, it should.

The White Hurricane, a powerful storm that swept through November 6 through the 11 of 1913, is considered by many to be the strongest storm to ever hit the Great Lakes. The grim statistics bare this out: At least 235 souls lost, up to 40 shipwrecks (including large Great Lakes freighters).

This storm was fed by a collision of polar air and a strengthening low over the Appalachians. This combination led to quick intensification. The arctic air sent temperatures down into the single digits across the plains, before dropping Michigan temperatures.

Strong winds blew out of the southwest ahead of this cold push, changing to northwest behind the front. These northwest winds generated an awesome lake effect set up.

William Deedler, Weather Historian for the National Weather Service office here in White Lake, describes the snow with this system as "extensive" with "blinding squalls."

The storm brought 4-5 foot snow drifts to Port Huron, leaving the city paralyzed. Peak wind gusts reached 70 mph! The synoptic snow (storm system) and lake effect snow combined to dump 2 feet of fresh snow on Cleveland.

In his detailed historical look at the White Hurricane, Deedler quotes a report form the Lake Carriers Association:

"No lake master can recall in all his experience a storm of
such unprecedented violence with such rapid changes in the
direction of the wind and its gusts of such fearful speed!
Storms ordinarily of that velocity do not last over four or
five hours, but this storm raged for sixteen hours continuously
at an average velocity of sixty miles per hour, with frequent
spurts of seventy and over.

   Obviously, with a wind of such long duration, the seas that
were made were such that the lakes are not ordinarily acquainted
with. The testimony of masters is that the waves were at least
35 feet high and followed each other in quick succession, three
waves ordinarily coming one right after the other.

  They were considerably shorter than the waves that are formed
by an ordinary gale. Being of such height and hurled with such
force and such rapid succession, the ships must have been
subjected to incredible punishment!"

Of the Great Lakes, Lake Huron was the scene of some of the worst damage and loss of life. Eight large freighters sank on Lake Huron. These ships did not have detailed lists of hands, so an exact count of sailors on board will never be fully known. But there were reports of bodies washing ashore in southern Ontario. Many of these men were still wearing the life jackets of the ships that carried them in life.

For more information, William Deedler's essay is a must-read. You can view it here: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/dtx/stm_1913.php

Further information can be found in Freshwater Fury by Frank Barcus .

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