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34th Anniversary – Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald

10 Nov 2009, 2:26 pm

Hello and happy Tuesday everyone, I hope you are enjoying your week so far. Today marks the 34th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald.

theWreck

For those of you who don’t the the story, she was a ship that was lost in Lake Superior on November 10th, 1975 during a strong fall storm. The storm intensified on the evening of the 10th to produce hurricane force wind gusts that produced 15 to 20 foot waves – a true “Gales of November” storm. The ship was carrying 26,000 tons of ore and was destined for Detroit, but was lost 17 miles from Whitefish Bay in the Eastern part of Lake Superior. Here’s the short from www.boatnerd.com:

Captain McSorley of the “FITZ” had indicated he was having difficulty and was taking on water. She was listing to port and had two of three ballast pumps working. She had lost her radar and damage was noted to ballast tank vent pipes and he was overheard on the radio saying, “don’t allow nobody (sic) on deck.” McSorley said it was the worst storm he had ever seen. All 29 officers and crew, including a Great Lakes Maritime Academy cadet, went down with the ship, which lies broken in two sections in 530 feet of water.

Monster Low Leads to Demise of the FITZ

The low pressure that sank the FITZ was very intense, here’s the track of the storm as it moved from the Great Basin into the Great Lakes Region in 1975.

LowTrack

Near Storm Forecast and Decision Making by Captain McSorely:

The yellow line indicates the FITZ’ course, which started in Superior Wisconsin on November 9th. On November 10th, the forecast called for an easterly wind, so the captain sought to take refuge along the north shore, sheltering the ship from big winds and waves.

Fitz' Course

Winds Change Direction:

The low tracked north of the lake and the winds changed violently over the the west/northwest. The winds howled to hurricane force (near 90mph) which billowed waves to near 20ft. The change in wind direction, ultimately, exposed the FITZ to the big waves on November 10th.  The red dots indicate the Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald where all 29 on board perished at approximately 7:10pm.

fitz2

This was quite a storm, but a storm that is all too unique in the Great Lakes Region during the months of November. The “November Gales” blow when the temperature difference between north and south become greater. The waning summer heat and the building Arctic air collides over the Plains and creates storms that end up in record books. Tommorow is the 69th anniversary of the November 11th, 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard that killed a total of 154 people, many of which were duck hunters…

duckhunters

It turns out that it was my Grandmother’s 8th birthday. All she remembers about the day was that it got very cold, it snowed a lot and nobody showed up for her birthday party… she was sad. Sorry to hear that Grandma – Happy Birthday to you tomorrow!

Meteorologist Todd Nelson – WeatherNation

One response to “34th Anniversary – Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald

  1. Love your story about Great Lakes storms in November. As a mariner who has lived through these hellacious storms in all seasons, storms in November are the worst to transit through. However, your comments regarding wave sizes on Superior during the Fitz storm were off. Waves sizes during that storm ranged from 25-50+ feet high. This information was based on eyewitness interviews, mariners accounts, and later USCG/NSTB hearings.

    Eight days later, my ship the ss Frank R. Denton was caught in another fierce Superior storm with waves from 25-50+feet, also. When the Denton cleared the Duluth entry winds were 30 knots[true] and gusty. Eventually Lake Superior winds ranged from 75 to 110 knots as indicated by on-board instruments! This maelstrom lasted nearly four days for the Denton. My ship took on 1200-1500 tons of deck ice, as indicated by the Plimsoll [load] Marks and a five to seven degree starboard list by the time we locked through at the Soo. It took the Denton over 3-1/2 days to reach Whitefish Point, MI, from the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge.

    When we arrived at Buffalo, NY, another 3-1/2 days later, we still had several hundred tons of ice on deck! The Buffalo Evening News photographed the arrival and the photo was front page news[UPI] all over the Eastern US. The gist to this eNote is that we may never know why the Fitzgerald sank. Since 1679 when LaSalle’s Griffin left Green Bay for Quebec and was never seen again commercial merchant shipping has always had it rough in the gales of November on the Great Lakes. There are over 5000 shipwrecks and over 6000 lives lost on the Great Lakes. In one case, there was a “Titanic” calamity in Chicago.

    As long as men sail and transit the Lakes for whatever reasons, the Great Lakes weather will ravage and take its tolls if we are not careful or prepared. The storms of November are to be feared and respected more so than other seasonal times because past experiences dictates such action. Regardless of the modern technologies and forecasting, now available, there will be another calamity or wreck yet to happen. History foretells this in time.

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