The Gales of November: Storms on the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes has had its share of infamous storms in November. The worst weather-related disaster on the Great Lakes occurred on November 7-10, 1913, and was covered in another blog post. The two other storms in the November Big Three are the Armistice Day Storm of November 11, 1940 (covered here and here) and the Edmund Fitzgerald Storm of November 10, 1975 (covered here and here).

Why is November so notorious for these storms? There are a number of factors involved. One is that November is the beginning of the transition between fall and winter in the Great Lakes region. As a result, there is a strong gradient between warm, moist air to the south and cold, dry air to the north. Storms, called extratropical cyclones, form and travel along these boundaries. In fact, researchers have documented that storms out of western Canada (aka Alberta Clippers) and out of Colorado track over the Great Lakes in the October/November time frame.

Predominant storm tracks for the Great Lakes region in fall.
Predominant storm tracks for the Great Lakes region in fall. The exact position of these tracks varies from study to study, but the overall pattern remains.

In addition to the storm tracks, the waters in the Great Lakes are still relatively warm so they inject heat and moisture into any passing system, causing them to intensify as well as  produce lots of lake-effect snow.

Finally, November is typically the tail end of the Great Lakes shipping season. So boats are making that one last trip and may be pressing their luck on the weather. November is an active time for hunters. In the Armistice Day Storm of November 11, 1940, numerous duck hunters were caught in the open and at least 13 died in Illinois.

The title of this article is a nod to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. That song and the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald inspired my life-long interest in Great Lakes storms.

Edmund Fitzgerald (1971) from Wikimedia Commons.