Nov. 10th: A Day of Weather Infamy for the Great Lake States and the Upper Midwest
November the 10th (and the day before and after) is the anniversary of several extraordinary weather events in the Great Lakes Region and Upper Midwest and, for that matter, anywhere in the United States. No less than five incredible weather events have occurred on these dates, resulting in some of the deadliest and most ferocious storms ever to affect Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. They are the following:
1) 1911: The Great Cold Front and Tornado Outbreak
2) 1913: The White Hurricane
3) 1940: Armistice Day Blizzard
4) 1975: "Edmund Fitzgerald" storm
5) 1998: The super-cyclone
1911: The Great Cold Front and Tornado Outbreak
The first of note is the amazing cold front that swept across the central portion of the United States Nov. 9-12, 1911.
Figure 1. The weather map for November 11, 1911.
No such an intense frontal passage has occurred in modern records anywhere in the United States (a similar event also occurred on Dec. 20, 1836). On Nov. 10, 1911, a blast of arctic air invaded the northern plains, sending the temperature at Rapid City, South Dakota from 62° at 6 a.m. to -13° by 8 a.m., an astonishing 75-degree drop in just two hours! CORRECTION: This is wrong. The front passed Rapid City on Nov. 9th and the drop in temperature there was just from 55° to 3° that day (falling to -8° by the 12th). Ironically, it was Jan. 10, 1911 that Rapid City saw its most amazing temperature drop when the Weather Bureau thermometer registered a fall of 47° in 15 minutes: 55° at 7:00 a.m. to 8° at 7:15 a.m. Then on January 12, 1911 the temperature dropped from 49° at 6 a.m. to -13° at 8 a.m. Sorry for the confusion! In my defense, I can say many people aside from myself have also confused the 1/10-11/1911 versus 11/10-11/1911 Rapid City temperature antics as well!
The front pushed eastward on Nov. 11th, when a low pressure formed along it over Missouri, sucking very warm and unstable air into the lower Great Lakes region. Violent tornadoes broke out in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. An F-4 twister decimated Janesville, Wisconsin, killing 9 people and injuring 50, and an F-2 hit Shiawassee County, Michigan, killing two more. An F-3 roared through Lake and Porter Counties in Indiana, injuring five. Other strong tornadoes struck Scott County, Iowa (F-2), Cass County, Illinois (F-2), Mason County, Illinois (F-3), Dupage County, Illinois (F-2), Calhoun County, Michigan (F-2), and De Kalb County, Indiana (F-2). The Janesville tornado struck at 9 p.m., and by midnight, blizzard conditions were raging and the temperature had fallen from 70° to 7° (as recorded in nearby Madison).
Aside from the phenomena of the tornadoes (the most violent so late in the season on record for the north-central states), the frontal passage was even more notorious for the incredible rapidity of the temperature change during its passage. Kansas City's temperature dropped from a record high 76° at noon on Nov. 11th to a record low of 11° by midnight. Springfield, Missouri dropped from a record 80° at 3pm to 13° by midnight. Oklahoma City fell from a record 83° at 1pm to 17° by midnight. Chicago dropped from 74° at 1pm to 13° by midnight, and the Monthly Weather Review stated "one man was overcome by heat and two others frozen to death in the short space of 24 hours".
The following is a summary of the state monthly (November 1911) high temperatures set on Nov. 11th, and the state monthly low temperatures set on Nov. 12th or 13th (from Monthly Weather Review; Condensed Climatological Summary, November, 1911:
It should be noted that never before or since in the United State's climate record have so many states recorded both their extreme monthly heat and cold records within a 24 to 36-hour period.
The following states did not record monthly heat and cold records during a 24 to 36-hour period but nonetheless display the amazing temperature fall as a result of the passage of the cold front:
Monthly Weather Review, November, 1911
Significant Tornadoes; 1680-1991, by Thomas P. Grazulis
1913: The "White Hurricane"
The deadliest weather event in Great Lakes history (excluding heat waves) was the so-called "White Hurricane" of Nov. 9-11, 1913. Synoptically, this storm was very similar to the great blizzard of Jan. 26-28, 1978: a trough of low pressure moving eastward from Minnesota combined with a developing low over the southern Appalachians to create a super-storm over Ohio. The lowest measured barometric pressure was not as low as the 1978 storm (968 mb/28.61" versus 955 mb/28.21"), but the storm's effects were far more devastating given the fact that many mariners on the Lakes chose to ignore the Weather Bureau's warnings. All told, 12 ships foundered with all hands lost, and another 29 were stranded or washed ashore. The exact loss of life remains unknown, but was likely in the range of 260-300. Some of the ships lost were very large cargo vessels over 500 feet in length. Winds were measured as high as 80mph in Buffalo, New York, and 79mph in Cleveland, Ohio. On the open waters of Lake Erie and Lake Huron, wind gusts over 90 mph and waves estimated to 35-feet high were reported.
In Cleveland a (still standing) record 22.2" of snow fell during the storm, with 17.8" falling in just the 24-hour period between noon Nov. 10th to noon Nov. 11th.
Figure 2. Cleveland was brought to a standstill by 22" of wind-blown snow during the blizzard of Nov. 10-11, 1913. (Photo courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society).
One of the precedents set by this storm was the culpability of the Weather Bureau so far as the deaths of the mariners was concerned. Shipping companies tried to lay the blame for their lost ships and sailors at the feet of the Weather Bureau (then under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture), since the Weather Bureau had not raised hurricane warnings (74mph+ winds) but just storm warnings (58-73mph winds). A debate, that went all the way to the White House in Washington D.C., raged for a month following the storm until evidence uncovered by Cleveland newspapers divulged the fact that the directors of the shipping companies who owned the lost ships had been pressuring captains to sail "no matter what" and pay "performance bonuses" to those who would take the risk of sailing in bad weather in order to get their cargoes to port on schedule.
In the summer of 1986 divers discovered the hulk of the S.S. Regina, all of whose 20 shipmen were lost without a trace during the 1913 storm, about three miles offshore between Port Sanilac and Lexington, Michigan. She was discovered upside down 80 feet deep on the bottom of Lake Huron. Four of the ships lost during the storm have yet to be found.
"White Hurricane" by David G. Brown, McGraw Hill, 2004
Armistice Day Blizzard of November 10-11, 1940
Minnesota's deadliest blizzard on record occurred on Nov. 10-11th, 1940. No other snowstorm in Minnesota lore holds as revered a status as this one. Many of the 154 who died in this blizzard were duck hunters who were taking advantage of the Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day) holiday and unusually mild late season weather to pursue their hobby. A classic Texas Panhandle low developed on Nov. 10th and traveled northeastward deepening to 971mb (28.65") over Wisconsin on Nov. 11th. In Minnesota temperatures dropped 50 degrees in hours and 50-80mph winds drove 12-27" of snow into monstrous drifts up to 20 feet deep.
Figure 3. "Needed an 8-foot probe to find pickup", photo by Richard Bren Sr., 1940, from "All Hell Broke Loose", by William H. Hull
On Lake Michigan, 66 sailors perished when three freight ships and several other smaller vessels sank. Winds at Grand Rapids, Michigan gusted to 80mph in the eastern quadrant of the low-pressure system. An incredible seiche occurred on Lake Huron and, near Saginaw, Michigan, the southwest wind caused the waterline in Saginaw Bay to retreat as much as a mile offshore from Winona Beach (assumed location) (see Monthly Weather Review, November 1940, Severe Local Storms, p. 335). In Saginaw, Michigan, the river level fell an incredible 8 feet to its lowest level on record.
The storm had been badly forecast by the Weather Bureau and the event resulted in, like the 1913 "White hurricane", considerable acrimony towards the agency. The Minneapolis Morning Tribune weather forecast for Nov. 10th called for "Cloudy, with snow flurries". 16.8" of snow fell on the city in 24 hours on Nov. 10-11. Temperatures in the low 60s in southeastern Minnesota on Nov. 9th fell to the single digits during the blizzard by Nov. 11th. The official maximum storm-snowfall from the blizzard was 26.5" at Collegeville, Minnesota.
"All Hell Broke Loose", by William H. Hull, 1985
1975: The "Edmund Fitzgerald" Storm
Yet another deadly extratropical storm raked the Great Lakes on November 10, 1975, resulting in the loss of the ore freighter S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior with all hands, 29 in all, lost. The ship was one of the largest ever to sail the Great Lakes with a length of 730 feet and deadweight of 26,000 tons. It was transporting a cargo of taconite (iron ore) from Superior, Wisconsin (mined from Silver Bay, Minnesota) to a steel mill at Zug Island near Detroit. A powerful storm, although not spectacular relative to other November cyclones to rake the Great Lakes, moved from central Kansas at 7 a.m. on Nov. 9th to a position over the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by 7 a.m. on Nov. 10th. The pressure of the storm fell to to 975 mb (28.80"). Winds increased to 60mph (with gusts to 85mph) from the northwest over Lake Superior and storm warnings were in effect with waves up to 20 feet reported from ships plying the lake. As the Fitzgerald approached Whitefish Bay near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, it made a final, but not alarming, report that it had lost its radar and was listing slightly. No further communication was ever received. It is speculated that the long ship, heavily laden with ore, was caught straddling a deep trough between two large waves and literally split in two, probably sinking within minutes.
Figure 4. The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald in calmer waters. Photo from NOAA.
Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the incident in his song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which concludes with the mournful standard:
"The Legend lives on from the Chippewa on down, of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee.
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead when the gales of November come early".
1998: The Super-Cyclone
Until the "super-super-cyclone" (one runs out of superlatives!) of last October 26 (2010), the most intense low-pressure system ever to carve its way across the Upper Midwest was the storm of November 10, 1998. All-time minimum barometric pressure records were set in Minnesota when the cyclone bottomed out at 962 mb (28.43") over southern Minnesota (as was recorded in Albert Lea and Austin).
Figure 5. The great cyclone as depicted on the weather map at 7 a.m., Nov. 10, 1998.
Until last month (October 26, 2010, when the barometric pressure bottomed out at 28.21" in Bigfork, Minnesota), the Nov. 10 1998 cyclone was the most intense on record to affect the Midwest of the United States. The storm packed ferocious winds, with a peak gust of 64mph in St. Cloud, MN. Like the Oct. 26, 2010 storm, however, the cyclone was a relatively warm one. Little snow of note occurred (the maximum depth being 12.5" at Sioux Falls, South Dakota). The October, 2010 event produced a maximum snowfall of 11" in North Dakota and a peak wind gust of 78mph at Rock of Ages, Isle Royale, Michigan. See here for more concerning the October 2010 event: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/dlh/?n=101026_extratropic allow
The extreme weather events of November 9-12 in years past have included: 1) the deadliest late-season tornado outbreak in the north-central United States, 2) deadliest Great Lakes storm, 3) most intense frontal passage in United States history, 4) deadliest blizzard in Minnesota history, and 5) the 2nd most intense low pressure system on record for the Midwest (only surpassed by the event of October 2010). Not bad for a three-day period in just one region of the United States. The second week of November is normally the transition period from Fall to Winter in the central portion of America, so extreme weather events may always be anticipated at this time and in this section of the country.
Christopher C. Burt