The Great Lakes are notorious for the violence and sudden nature of their storms. These environmental phenomena may come in a variety of forms, including:
Sudden waves, and
The following examples of such violent quirks in the weather of the Great Lakes are taken from an article "Lake Lore" which appeared in the Encounter magazine of the London (Ontario) Free Press on 21 July 1990:
HUNTER SAVIDGE, 1899: A 10-second wonder wind was responsible for the Hunter Savidge's demise in 1899. Becalmed, the Savidge was resting peacefully at the southern tip of Lake Huron when a violent wind came up, drove the bow of the ship underwater, exploded the sails, snapped the shrouds, rolled the ship over and left it right-side-up and completely submerged. All of it took 10 seconds. The crew, except five men, were rescued by a nearby ship that remained becalmed, unaware and unaffected by the Wonder Wind.
BANNOCKBURN, 1902: A similar story haunts memories of the Bannockburn, a sturdy majestic British ship carrying grain on Lake Superior in November, 1902. One evening, as it sailed close to another ship called the Algonquin, the Bannockburn attracted the attention of the Algonquin's captain. For a brief moment, the captain turned away to remark on the passing ship's majesty. When he turned back, the Bannockburn had vanished. No trace of it was ever found. As with a number of sailing tragedies, the loss of the Bannockburn was put to song. Lee Murdock recorded it on his two-CD album Great Lakes Chronicle. On the notes for his CD, Lee lists it as a Traditional song, copyrighted by Larry Penn in 1989, with the title Shores of Lake Michigan / May Day (Bannockburn).
HIBOU, 1936: A Wonder Wave destroyed the Georgian Bay's Hibou. The passenger steamer was cruising in calm water in 1936 when a single wave washed over her decks and destroyed her. Ten people lived, seven perished. The wave vanished as quickly as it struck and was never logically explained.
EDMUND FITZGERALD, 1975: On a cold, grey November day in 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald simply disappeared. The largest vessel on the Great Lakes had left Lake Superior's Duluth port the day before with a sister ship, the Arthur M. Anderson. Captain Jesse Cooper of the Anderson kept a close eye on the Fitzgerald as they sailed. A brief but violent snow flurry blocked Cooper's view for less than three minutes. When the snow cleared, the Fitzgerald was gone. Later, lifeboats were found but there was no evidence they were launched. The boats had been ripped free from the ship by the same violent force that sank the Fitzgerald. There were no survivors. Experts say the sailors couldn't have had the 15-second warning time it takes to secure a lifejacket.
With some apparent artistic licence, the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald was immortalized in the song of the same name written by Canadian, Gordon Lightfoot.
THE CONDUCTOR, ~1854: A story not covered in the above Free Press article, but noteworthy because of the song recorded by Tanglefoot, is the wreck of the sailing ship The Conductor on Lake Erie around 1854. The roughness and shallowness of this lake claimed many ships in the past.
THE WHITE SQUALL: These sudden violent storms on the Great Lakes are referred to as a White Squall and the suddenness of their impact is clearly portrayed in the song of the same name by Canadian balladeer Stan Rogers.
Environment Canada produces daily updates on the weather for the Great Lakes and all areas across Canada. These data (in text format) are readily available from the Department of the Environment's web site. This site may be accessed by clicking on the image at the left of this text.
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Created: 27th May 2001
Last Updated: 23rd March 2003