Great storm remembered

It happened a century ago this weekend — the Great Lakes storm of 1913.
Kevin Collier
Nov 9, 2013

 

It began Nov. 7 when two storms collided, impacting four of the five Great Lakes. Only Lake Ontario was shown mercy with vessels and sailors spared.

By the time the monstrous storm calmed down Nov. 10, a dozen ships had gone down, with more numbers damaged or beached. The loss of life was heartbreaking — sailors and passengers lost totaled more than 250.

The hardest hit and greatest loss of life was to vessels on Lake Huron. Lake Michigan was the least impacted of the four lakes struck. A barge, The Plymouth, was lost with seven crew perishing.

Michigan maritime historians agree it was the storm of the century and beyond. It earned several monikers: the “Freshwater Fury,” the “Big Blow” and the “White Hurricane.”

First sign of the monster came to Grand Haven when an unseasonably warm Friday, Nov. 7, morphed into increasing snow flurries by Saturday.

“While high winds prevailed from southwest on Friday, the weather was seasonably warm,” the Grand Haven Tribune reported Nov. 10. “But, during Saturday, the temperature began to drop, falling to about 15 degrees.”

The Tribune's Saturday edition warned readers with a front page article bearing the headline, “Prepare for Severe Winter.” However, the meteorological experts sited in the wire article were not pointing to the approaching storm, but rather tossing out predictions for the impending winter season.

West Michigan ports did take notice of the atmospheric changes, and communication between navigation stations was fluent and proactive. Before Mother Nature's mighty hammer struck by Sunday, many vessels had either safely hunkered down at ports or had departed early enough to beat the blizzard beast.

“The storm completely paralyzed lake traffic all over the Great Lakes,” the Tribune reported Nov. 11. “Even the largest freighters sought shelter at the nearest available harbor.”

According to the Tribune, winds peaked at 54 mph in Grand Haven on Sunday and didn't drop below 40 for nearly two days. Snow and wind gusts kept citizens off the streets and indoors stoking fireplaces and wood stoves to stay warm.

Other shoreline locations endured sustained winds of 60 mph, with 90 mph gusts. Some inland areas received up to 2 feet of snow and ports were relentlessly battered by waves. Some sailors reported waves reached heights of 30-35 feet out on Lake Huron.

After winds settled and morning broke Nov. 11, residents of the Tri-Cities had made it through the storm of the century. There was no loss of life or limb — just loss of tree limbs and property damage.

Structural damage to some buildings and homes in Grand Haven was reported. Perhaps the most noticeable being huge glass display cases that were smashed to bits at the Enterprise Clothing store and a grandstand that was demolished at the baseball park on Sheldon Road.

Ferrysburg sustained minor structural damage to homes and retail establishments.

Damage was most serious along the Spring Lake waterfront.

To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

 

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