I have to admit that before I moved up here nearly 20 years ago, the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the horrific weather that caused it, was not something that I thought about much. Infrequently, the song the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald would be played on the radio. I knew the song was written about an actual happening, but for some reason, it always seemed more like fiction. Or perhaps something that happened in a far off land a very long time ago. The truth is far different. I was 9 years old and the ship sank just 475 miles away from where I was at the time.
Since moving up here, I have always felt a much stronger connection to the tragedy. It’s not just getting to know folks who knew some of those that perished, or seeing a lakes freighter just about every time we head to the beach during shipping season. It’s being able to experience the humbling power of a November gale on the shores of Lake Superior. I have experienced many since moving up here. They seem to happen at least once every year, sometimes more than once. I have also been privileged to experience Mother Nature at her furious. The same atmospheric situation that sank that ship. A raw cold that sinks it’s bitter teeth into your bones. A sky that is as grey as the hull of a battleship. Yet, it is the wind that caused all the problems that evening almost 43 years ago. It’s a different wind from others. Hard to explain, but it just feels heavier. Like the air weighs more and hits you with more force. Almost as if to say: “Nothing is going to stop me”. The wind in these great November Gales is also relentless. Sure there are peak gusts, but it never lets up. There is no lull. No calm in the eye of the storm. Just a relentless shaking of trees, buildings and anything else sitting on the ground.
I have stood on the shores of Lake Superior when the winds were blowing 50 mph+ and gusting higher. I have struggled to sand on my own two feet without being blown over. I have had to turn my head to face downwind, just to be able to breathe. I have stood watching the massive waves come rolling towards the shore and then smash into the rocks like a giant explosion. I have seen the winds blow so hard at the trees that their entire bodies sway in concert, to the point where they look to be sure to snap in half.
Yet, somehow, most survive. Sure there are a few trees lost in the storms. Some storms take down more than others, but in the grand scope of things, probably 99% of the trees exposed to the storms fury survive. So do most of the critters in the woods. The storm comes, does it’s thing, sometimes causing havoc for the humans, but life goes on for everything else. The difference? Well if you ask me, it is because most humans still think they are the pinnacle of all that is natural. Perhaps I even believed that before moving up here. Before being able to stand on the shores of the big lake during a powerful autumnal storm and feel the ground literally shake as the monstrous 20 foot plus waves crash on the sand.
Its a frightening, yet magnificent feeling. To feel so small. So powerless. To witness things first hand that force you to recognize that there are forces out there so much more powerful than I could even dream of. People often ask me what my favorite weather phenomena is. Many are surprised to find out that it is not the “Glamour Boys” of meteorology like the tornado or hurricane. Those are both awe inspiring weather conditions for me, but yet pale in comparison to the granddaddy of all atmospheric events, the mid-latitude cyclones that form in the Plains and swing into the Midwest during the beginning of the cold season. The Autumnal Storm. While hurricanes and tornadoes can do some horrific damage to things, from purely an atmospheric viewpoint, the mid-latitude cyclone will eat a category 5 hurricane for lunch and use the tornado for a toothpick.
Let time pass and travel deeper into the cold season and they become the snowstorms and blizzards of winter. Yet, they are typically not as ferocious as their autumn cousins because these storms feed off of the difference in air temperature that sets up by the cold intensifying across the northern latitudes, while the warmth is still hanging on in the south. By the winter time, the warmth in the south has eased and it is harder to get the large temperature difference. In the autumn, things can happen to that this temperature difference builds and then a “wave” comes along and stirs things. The result is a massive storm, sometimes stretching from the Canadian Border to the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing compares to it in the world of weather. The largest do not even happen over the Great Lakes. They are the baby brother to the big boys that form in places like the Gulf of Alaska, the North Sea and the Tasman Sea.
So the inspiration for all of this was two fold. First, the changing of the month into November. It is hard for me to have this happen and not think of the November gale(s) that are waiting to form and strike the area and secondly, the baby gale we have going on at the moment. We awoke to clear skies and crisp temps, but before the sun could rise, the clouds had filled in from the south. The radar indicated snows to our south in northern WI and rains to the south of them. All was traveling north, just a matter of time. At around a little after noon, the precip started. First as a little drizzle, but then changed to snow. A wet snow, melting as it hit the ground. The temp and dewpoint have both dropped and the snow is sticking. A stiff breeze is blowing out of the east at around 30-35 mph. The kind of storm that might actually make headlines and cause issues in places of the southern US, but for us. Just the warm up for what may be to come.
This past week was rather uneventful as far as the weather goes. We had a nice and dry Halloween. It was not warm, but that would almost be a miracle. It was nice that we did not have any rain or snow falling or even snow on the ground. Since Gracie has joined the rank of the trick-or-treaters, we have had snow on the ground more times than not. She thought of and designed her costume all on her own. Nora helped pick out the items and also helped bring it all together, but it was neat to see Grace take the reigns. In case you were wondering, she was the character Sophie Foster, from the book series she is currently reading.
The weather yesterday was also quite agreeable. We had some peaks of sun, light winds and temps topping out in the upper 40’s. A great day to finish up any outdoor chores and that is exactly what Nora and I did. I only have to take the loader off and put the blower on Big Red and I will be officially, completely ready for winter. That job can be done in just about any kind of weather, the trick is to do it before I need it! There is a chance I may need it by the end of this week. Looks like the first arctic air will be dropping in and bringing some lake effect to a lot of the UP snowbelts. So that will be high on the priority list early this week for sure!
We also headed to Jacobsville for a walk. It is Nora’s favorite place in this world and I love to see her face light up as we get close. The pups and Gracie all had fun running around and exploring in the woods and Nora got to chat with some of the long-time locals that she knows from there. On the way home we stopped at the Ahmeek Fire Hall, picked up three spaghetti dinners from one of their annual fundraisers, came home ate and relaxed.
I will be starting the winter forecasts tomorrow! I actually had hoped to get them going November 1st, but had things pop up Thursday and could not get to it and then by Friday I thought it would be best to start out on a Monday rather than a Friday. I have already mentioned the potential for snow for us by the second half of the week (besides the snow that is falling outside my window right now!), but there is also some snow potential for roughly the northern 1/3rd to 1/2 of the Midwest. A good way to end this entry!
Good night from the Keweenaw..