The White Hurricane: The United States's Largest Inland Maritime Disaster

We're used to hearing about hurricanes in places like Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, but a 1913 event called the White Hurricane occurred far beyond those oceanfront states. White hurricanes struck the Great Lakes region over a period of three days in November, resulting in more than a dozen shipwrecks and 250 deaths. More than a century later, the White Hurricane is still the largest inland maritime disaster in American history.

Great Lakes Storm of 1913

On November 6, 1913, forecasters noted a hurricane forming in Lake Superior and rapidly moving toward Lake Michigan. This was not unusual – the region is prone to severe storms that lift moisture and intensity as they cross the Great Lakes. They predicted "moderate to strong" winds, but the storm turned out to be much stronger than anticipated, as the weather forecast at the time was not as strong or accurate as it is today. In the early hours of the morning of November 7, a steamer on Lake Superior encountered gale force winds, which forced the ship to sail within 48 hours.

White Storm

The storm collided with a second hurricane that formed over North and South Carolina, and propelled by warm and wet air, the system pushed through the Ohio Valley and into Lake Huron with disastrous results. Between November 7 and 10, the storm produced hurricane-force winds on four of the five Great Lakes, mostly severely over Lake Huron, where ships 35 to 50 feet high and waves between battered coastal communities. The moisture from the lakes carried by the storms was then eroded down as ice, resulting in total whitewashing conditions in the Great Lakes and surrounding areas.

White Storm Effect

The White Hurricane was devastating to the region and its shipping industry. In all, 19 ships were sunk or destroyed, another 19 ran aground, and more than $1 million worth of cargo sank to the bottom of the lakes. The storm's death toll exceeds 250, most of them sailors, and cities along the Great Lakes were paralyzed for weeks while workers cleared more than two feet of snow that fell and drifted like homes. I flew in As devastating and devastating as it was, something good came from the White Hurricane, as did the U.S. Weather Bureau and NOAA Implemented updated systems for storm preparedness, weather forecasting and shore-to-ship communications. Of course, the forces of nature will always be powerful and unpredictable, but the lessons learned from the White Hurricane will help keep people safe while sailing the Great Lakes.

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