November Gales

A conversation among Whalers
jimh
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November Gales

Postby jimh » Mon Nov 05, 2018 12:29 pm

About 30-years ago I attended a lecture given by a meteorologist from Ann Arbor who worked for what was then called "The Weather Bureau" (now NOAA). The topic was the weather on the Great Lakes in November. Although it has been many years, I still very clearly recall two startling observations that this gentleman made and presented at a meeting of the Birmingham chapter of the United States Power Squadron that evening:

--the maximum differential between air and water temperatures on Lake Superior occurred during early November, around the period November 9 to 11. This was significant because a winter storm passing over warmer water will be strengthened by the heat energy radiating from the water; and

--that about 80-percent of the tonnage on the bottom of the Great Lakes sank between November 9 and November 11.

I don't have any published data to cite about these claims, just my firm recollection of this lecture. In regard to the dates of storms and ships sinking, there is evidence to support this claim:

--November 11, 1835, 17-ships lost in storm

--November 9 thru 12, 1913 "The Big Storm" 12-ships lost

--November 11 and 12, 1940 "Armistice Day Blizzard" 5-ships lost

--November 10, 1975, the Edmund FItzgerald lost

WIth 35-ships lost in this narrow date range, there must be more to the cause than mere coincidence. As Gordon LIghtfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald suggests, "when the gales of November come early" is a dangerous time on the Great Lakes.

Regarding the EDMUND FITZGERALD, I was doing some further reading about her sinking this past week in preparation for a informal talk I was asked to give on that subject. I came across a recent (2013) analysis of the sinking that has employed very scientific and modern methods. The conclusions reached by this report seem the most logical and reasonable that I have read to date. Although the report is aimed at professional readers such as naval architects and ship designers and at times becomes difficult to follow because of the technical language, I found the conclusions reached to be solidly based on the evidence. This report is available on-line at

A FORENSIC INVESTIGATION OF THE
BREAKUP AND SINKING OF THE GREAT
LAKES IRON ORE CARRIER EDMUND
FITZGERALD, NOVEMBER 10, 1975,
USING MODERN NAVAL ARCHITECTURE
TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES

http://assets1.csc.com/innovation/downloads/Edmund_Fitzgerald.pdf

If interested in this topic, I recommend reading the report.

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Re: November Gales

Postby dtmackey » Mon Nov 05, 2018 10:16 pm

Thanks for sharing Jim, I love that song and have looked into the sinking many years ago. The USCGC Buoy Tender Woodrush rushed to her aid, but it was far to late. Woodrush was WLB-407, and I served on USCGC Spar WLB-403, nearly the same, except for mission specific modifications.

I know the buoy tenders can handle the rough as we came back from VA in the winter of 1987 headed to ME encountering a violent winter storm with seas far worse than I care to experience again. Our Capt was smart and since we were equipped to refuel lighthouses he ballasted all below waterline fuel tanks with water that were installed after the ship was built. Since we were a round bottom ice breaking belt line, we'd roll in any sea and during the storm we rolled 2 degrees beyond design roll recovery - can't remember the angle, but it was a nasty 2 days in the slop and they attributed the fact that we didn't capsize to the decision to ballast all below waterline tanks.

While in-route to ME, we were asked to respond to a Russian ship that rolled 30 degrees on her side and later capsized off NJ, but they were rescued by helicopters. Needless to say, in those conditions we were not making much in the way of SOG to get there, not to mention of the two main Cooper diesels driving generators for our the main electric motor (diesel-electric) we only had one operational diesel. If I remember correctly, the massive inline 6cyl Coopers were about 1,000hp each and spun at a max of 400RPM. The reason we were down one motor is the year prior while doing buoy ops off Moulton ledge, the buoy tender moved into a difficult position trying to tend the buoy and bounced off/over the ledge in a sea bending the keel and damaging the crankshaft on one of the Cooper diesels rendering it inoperable. Yes, there was more damage than that, but quick damage control action kept the flooding to a minimum allowing a safe return to port. There was an investigation and the Capt was cleared due to the conditions and location of the buoy.

[More about Cooper engines in a separate thread.--jimh]

Sorry, I've babbled too much and taken this off-topic, but the thread revived a host of memories.

D-

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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Tue Nov 06, 2018 12:53 pm

Regarding propulsion engines: the EDMUND FITZGERALD had a steam turbine propulsion engine engine and steam turbine generators. The propeller shaft turned at 99-RPM at maximum service speed. The propeller pitch was something like 15.9-feet and diameter was 19.5-feet. The steam plant was originally fired with coal. She was refit later to use oil, probably bunker oil, in 1972. There was not much oil pollution from the sinking because at the water temperatures on the bottom of Lake Superior the bunker oil is not particularly likely to flow. An oil slick was noted after the sinking and was attributed to diesel fuel that was used to run the diesel engine that powered the bow thruster, another added feature installed after the launch.

As it happens, I was in attendance at the launch of the EDMUND FITZGERALD on June 7, 1958. I was seven-years-old and my father took me to the launch, which was quite well publicized. The crowd in attendance was estimated to be 15,000 people. I remember seeing the hull on wooden timbers, men driving wedges between the hull and timbers to raise the hull, and very large ropes holding the hull in place spaced evenly apart long the great length of the hull. The ropes ran through electrically-operated guillotine cutting machines. At the moment of the launch, the guillotines were operated in unison, the many ropes were cut, and the hull slid down the wooden ways into the adjacent slip, creating a big wave and splashing the far shore of the slip. That event is etched into my memory.

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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Tue Nov 06, 2018 4:48 pm

Behind the EDMUND FITZGERALD was the ARTHUR ANDERSON. Bernie Cooper was the captain. Here is an interview with Captain Cooper:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&v=3VXY6tuZ5eU

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Re: November Gales

Postby dtmackey » Tue Nov 06, 2018 6:04 pm

jimh wrote:...There was not much oil pollution from the sinking because at the water temperatures on the bottom of Lake Superior the bunker oil is not particularly likely to flow...


Hi Jim--when you refer to bunker oil, I'm assuming you mean bunker C due to its thick state in the depths and temps of lake Superior. If my memory serves be correctly bunker oil came in three grades or types:

Bunker A - # 2 fuel oil
Bunker B - #4 or #5 fuel oil
Bunker C - #6 residual oil

Bunker C would be a thick almost syrup like consistency and not flow or rise to the surface in the depths of Lake Superior.

It's common for bunker C to be heated before use so it's viscous enough to flow and able to be injected through the high pressure mechanical fuel pump and injector.

I can image seeing the Edmund Fitz launched would have left a lifelong memory. I wish I could witness the launch of a ship that large.

D-
Last edited by dtmackey on Tue Nov 06, 2018 6:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Wed Nov 07, 2018 10:17 am

Returning to November Gales, there are two more major ship losses in November.

The steamer CARL D. BRADLEY sank on November 18, 1958 in Lake Michigan during a gale. This voyage was also intended to be the last one of the that season. The ship broke in two on the surface. There were two survivors from the crew of 35 men. The BRADLEY had held the distinction of the largest ship on the Great Lakes for 22-years following her launching in in 1927. The cause was attributed to the cold temperatures and the brittle steel alloy that was used to construct the ship. The wreck is in depth of about 360-feet in central Lake Michigan. There was continual controversy about the ship breaking into two pieces, but recent observations by divers have confirmed that the two sections of the hull are separated.

The song "Wreck of Carl D. Bradley" written by Larry Penn commemorates the ship and its sinking. I have a version of the song recorded by Lee Murdock on his album "Cold Winds." You can hear a 90-second preview of the song on the iTune store

The steamer DANIEL J. MORRELL was lost on November 29, 1966 in Lake Huron. There was one survivor from the crew of 29. The MORRELL broke in two on the surface, and the two separate hulls floated apart for some distance. They are now several miles apart on the bottom of Lake Huron in less than 100-feet of water. The cause was, again, thought to be due to cold temperature and brittle steel. And this voyage was another last run of the shipping season. The book "Sole Survivor" was written by the sole survivor of the MORRELL and was published about 30-years after the sinking. I have the book and have met the author, Dennis Hale. He passed away in 2015.

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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Wed Nov 07, 2018 10:58 am

Re the fuel oil used on the steamer EDMUND FITZGERALD:

The report of the investigation by the Coast Guard into the sinking contained these comments about the fuel used:

8. Pollution

On the morning of 11 November 1975, when it became apparent
that there was some discharge of oil in the area where FITZGERALD
was lost, the Commander, Ninth Coast Guard District, activated
the Joint U.S.-Canadian Pollution Contingency Plan and the
Joint Response Team (JRT), with U. S. and Canadian representatives
on scene at Sault Ste. Marie that evening. A representative
of the Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team was also present.
The JRT remained on scene in an observation and advisory capacity
until Friday, 14 November 1975, at which time it was
concluded that the diesel oil on board the vessel (bow thruster
fuel) had vented and that the Bunker C (main propulsion fuel)
had reached a sufficiently low temperature that the viscosity
had increased enough to preclude further venting. Thus, it
was determined that the pollution potential was negligible
and the JRT was deactivated. The oil which had been observed on
the surface had dissipated and there was no cleanup effort.


Cf.:
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
COAST GUARD
MARINE CASUALTY REPORT
SS EDMUND FITZGERALD; SINKING IN LAKE SUPERIOR
ON 10 NOVEMBER 1975 WITH LOSS OF LIFE
U.S. COAST GUARD
MARINE BOARD OF INVESTIGATION REPORT
AND
COMMANDANT'S ACTION
REPORT NO. USCG 16732/64216
pgs 47-48
Available on-line from: https://www.dco.uscg.mil/Portals/9/DCO%20Documents/5p/CG-5PC/INV/docs/boards/edmundfitz.pdf

The report also notes the total fuel capacity of the FITZGERALD was 114,00-gallons, and prior to departing Duluth 50,000-gallons of fuel had been taken aboard. The report does not give a figure for the total amount of fuel aboard when the FITZGERALD got underway from Duluth, but the report does comment that 50,000-gallons would have been sufficient for the planned voyage to Detroit and a return to Duluth.

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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Wed Nov 07, 2018 11:37 am

When the EDMUND FITZGERALD was built her hull depth was 39-feet. At her initial rating by the USCG for maximum cargo capacity her LOAD LINE CERTIFICATE in the sailing season on the Great Lakes designated as "winter" (November 1 to March 31) the required minimum freeboard was to be 14-feet 9.25-inches. This means the maximum draft would be 39-feet minus 14-feet 9.25-inches, or 24-feet 2.75-inches.

The USCG revised the Load Line Certificate for the FITZGERALD several times, each time permitting her to be loaded more heavily. The last revision was in September 1973, and the winter minimum freeboard was then specified as only 11-feet 6-inches. The effect was the ship could be loaded more deeply by an increase of 3-feet 3.25-inches. This was a substantial increase in the maximum loading allowed.

When the FITZGERALD departed Duluth on November 9, 1975, her recorded draft was 27-feet 6-inches (aft), giving her a freeboard of 11-feet 6-inches, or exactly at the minimum freeboard required under her load line certificate for that time of year.

In a sea state where the significant wave height was 20-feet, having only 11-feet 6-inches of freeboard would mean that green water would be routinely coming aboard the main deck of the ship. Further aggravating the problem of green water coming aboard, the waves were on the starboard stern quarter and the ship had reported a "bad list" to starboard. Any list to starboard would inherently mean the freeboard on her starboard side would be reduced, and it is reasonable to assume that during the final moments of the FITZGERALD's voyage her freeboard on starboard was less than 11-feet 6-inches, and perhaps markedly less.

With some waves described as being in excess of 30-feet, the height of water coming onto the deck and being above the cargo hatch covers would then be quite substantial. Waves would be sweeping across and down the deck, until they encountered the forward house. Some of the wave energy would be reflected back off the forward house. The reflected waves could then add to incoming waves, producing a height of water on the deck in the vicinity of the forward house of even greater height than the original waves.

The cargo hatch covers were 5/16-inch thick steel and were designed to be strong enough to tolerate a static head of 4-feet of water on them. In visual observations of the wreck on the bottom, the covers for the #1 and #2 cargo hatches are seen inside the cargo hold, indicative of the covers being blow inward and into the holds. If one assumes that these cargo hatches were blown in while the ship was still afloat and underway, then once the cargo hatches were uncovered each open cargo hatch presented roughly a 11-foot by 50-foot opening through which water on deck could enter the cargo hold unimpeded.

In the USCG report on its investigation, factors contributing to the sinking were delineated. Here is an excerpt:

4. The following factors contributed to the loss of FITZGERALD:

a. The winter load line assigned to FITZGERALD under
the changes to the Load Line Regulations in 1969, 1971 and
1973 allowed 3 feet, 3-1/4 inches less minimum freeboard than
had been allowed when the vessel was built in 1958. This
overall reduction in required freeboard also reflected a reduction
in Winter Penalty for Great Lakes vessels. Not only did
the reduction in minimum required freeboard significantly reduce
the vessel's buoyancy, but it resulted in a significantly
increased frequency and force of boarding seas in the storm
FITZGERALD encountered on 10 November. This, in turn, resulted
in an increased quantity of water flooding through loosely
dogged hatches and through openings from topside damage.


In that same report a number of actions were recommended. Here is an excerpt:

ACTION CONCERNING THE RECOMMENDATIONS

1. The following Board recommendations relate to load line regulations
and weathertight integrity and are addressed jointly.

Recommendation 1: That Part 45 of Title 46 of the United States
Code of Federal Regulations (Great Lakes Load Lines) be amended immediately
to rescind the reduction in minimum freeboard brought about by
the 1969, 1971, and 1973 changes to the Load Line Regulations.

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Re: November Gales

Postby Hoosier » Tue Nov 13, 2018 6:20 pm

the National Weather Service office, Gaylord, Michigan, posted this :

https://www.weather.gov/apx/Gales_Of_November

NWS Gaylord is responsible for Whitefish Bay and Lake Superior west to about Grand Marais, where NWS Marquette takes over.
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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Wed Nov 14, 2018 8:03 am

The map with air pressure isobars showing 978 mBar at the center on the night of the sinking of the Fitz is most interesting.

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Re: November Gales

Postby Ridge Runner » Fri Nov 16, 2018 9:29 am

Yes, [an atmospheric pressure of 979 mBar] is [interesting]. On the Dvorak Intensity Chart, 978 mBar pressure in the Atlantic would be a Saffir-Simpson Category-1 hurricane or a Category-2 hurricane, depending on wind speed: 64 to 83 Knots is Category-1; 84 to 96 knots is Category-2. With the wind speed noted at 74-MPH, this would have been a Category-1 hurricane in the Atlantic, and higher wind gusts could have pushed this closer to a Category-2 equivalent storm.
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Re: November Gales

Postby Todd » Fri Nov 16, 2018 1:54 pm

Happy Thanksgiving all,

For those who may be interested, there is a free program about the Edmund Fitzgerald sponsored by the Jackson Michigan District Library:

“Edmund Fitzgerald – The Stories, The Song”
November 26 @ 5:30 pm
Lost Railway Museum
142 W. Michigan Ave.
Grass Lake, MI 49240
(517) 522-8211
http://www.lostrailwaymuseum.org/

Mike Fornes presents a story-telling, musical program about the loss of a Great Lakes ship, its crew, and the song telling the ship’s haunting tale. Hear the stories of the crew members, their families, and the ironies of a doomed ship in one of the worst storms in Great Lakes History.

Todd

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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Fri Nov 16, 2018 2:28 pm

Below are two graphics from NOAA for the evening the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. The "X" denotes the location of the ship for the time of the data being modeled. These graphs are from a presentation by the Marquette (Michigan) office of the National Weather Service.

8.07pmEST_Nov101975.gif
Fig. 1. NOAA Model Data for Wind Speed
8.07pmEST_Nov101975.gif (95.09 KiB) Viewed 3566 times

8.gif
Fig. 2. NOAA Model Data for Wave Height and Wind Direction
8.gif (89.31 KiB) Viewed 3566 times


As seen above, the EDMUND FITZGERALD had the misfortune to be sailing into the very worst winds and very worst seas in all of Lake Superior at the fateful hour of 7 p.m. that evening.

The Fitz was maintaining a heading of 140-degrees. The wind vectors show the wind direction was north of due West, so perhaps 280 to 290-degrees. This would put the wind and the waves on the Starboard stern quarter of the ship, perhaps about 30 to 40-degrees off dead astern. These would be considered a following sea on the Starboard stern quarter. Based on the loading when she departed Duluth, there would have only been 11.5-feet of freeboard, assuming an even trim and no added weight. We know the ship had a list to Starboard, so the freeboard on that side was reduced.

The beam of the Fitz is 75-feet. If we assume the list is oriented on keel centerline, that gives 37.5-feet from keel to gunwale. For a list of 10-degrees (a "bad list" was reported), the reduction in freeboard would be

Reduced freeboard = 37.5-feet x TAN(10-degrees)
Reduced freeboard = 6.6-feet

The Starboard freeboard would be down to about 5-feet. But we must also consider that whatever weight that has caused the list must have also increased draft, and thus also reduced freeboard. Let us assume that added weight has reduced freeboard by another foot. The Starboard freeboard of the Fitz was now about 4-feet or less. She is operating in seas with estimated wave height of 9-meters, or 29.5-feet. This means the Fitz is taking green water over her spar deck with waves coming aboard that are perhaps more than 20-feet above the deck.

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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Mon Nov 19, 2018 9:19 am

This past weekend there were two notable anniversaries related to November gales.

Saturday, November 17, was Gordon Lightfoot's 80th birthday. He gave a benefit concert in his hometown of Orillia, Ontario.

Sunday, November 18, marked 60-years since the sinking of the CARL D BRADLEY in Lake Michigan. The BRADLEY hull fractured on the surface, and the crew had time to get away from the sinking ship. Four crew clung to a life raft, but after a night in the cold water, waves, and high winds, only two survived after they were found on the raft in shoal water west of High Island in the Beaver Island archipelago the next morning, about 17-miles northeast of the wreck site.

The wreck of the BRADLEY lies in deep water at
45°39'5.28"N
086° 3'55.44"W

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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Sun Nov 25, 2018 9:15 am

I spent last week (November 19 to 24) on the shores of northern Lake Michigan with several days of high winds and snow storms, re-reading an interesting account of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald as discussed by the captain of the SS WILFRED SYKES, another ore carrier that was out on Lake Superior a few hours behind the FITZGERALD in the same storm and sea conditions. The book is "The Night the FITZ Went Down," by Hugh E. Bishop in cooperation with Dudley Paquette, Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc., 2006.

This narrative tends to be critical of the investigations and findings of the USCG report, the NTSB report, and the Lake Carriers Association (LCA) report, which all seem to overlook the most obvious cause: a massive hull failure that occurred due to negligence in the operation of the boat. The book calls into question whether the FITZGERALD was in a seaworthy condition on November 9, 1975 when she was loaded to the maximum permitted draft and left the ore dock in Duluth.

Captain Paquette on the SYKES tells a much different story than the other investigations. Of course, there is no way to know exactly what happened to cause the FITZ to sink so rapidly there was no time for MAYDAY and no survivors. But this book is an interesting read with a much different perspective. In particular, this account notes that the FITZ had a 7,500-HP propulsion engine (while many other ore-carriers had only 1,000 to 2,000-HP), which enabled it to operate at higher speeds, and the vessel had a long history of being run at high speeds in rough weather. The choice of course to run made by the captain of the FITZ on that last voyage put the vessel in the worse possible conditions for almost all of the trip, increasing the time the hull was exposed to extreme seas. Captain Paquette also recounts that his vessel recorded wind speeds of 70-knots with gusts to 100-knots, and had waves coming aboard that were 25-feet above the waterline. Paquette took the SYKES to anchor in a protected lee to avoid running into huge head seas for many hours, saving his ship from the battering of the waves.

This is not the finest non-fiction book ever written, but the unusual perspective of its analysis makes it a worthy read for anyone interested in a first-hand account of the November 10, 1975 storm, and how a number of other large ore carriers survived but the FITZ did not.

ASIDE: The SS WILFRED SYKES was built in 1949 and at her launch was 671-feet LOA and the largest and fastest ship on the Great Lakes. In the November 1975 storm she was then 26-years-old. She was still in operation in 2018 at age 69-years-old.

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Re: November Gales

Postby Hoosier » Mon Nov 26, 2018 12:43 pm

Sitting here watching the snow flakes and wind, 24 mph peak in the last hour, I got to wondering. Having been in the North Channel in some really sloppy conditions and having sailed in 50' seas on both the North Atlantic and North Pacific I can state that "seas" in the Great lakes are not like seas in the ocean. In reading over this thread I was struck by how many of the ships that were lost broke in half. My speculation is that they hogged in the short period high waves and the bow and stern were on the crests of waves while the midship section was in the trough, supported by air. Snap. I vaguely recall a theory that was thrown around a couple of years ago that it was a Rogue Wave that got the Fitz. It's still November and we just had a duzie of a storm.
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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Mon Nov 26, 2018 3:46 pm

Dave--for your theory of hogging to be correct, the middle of the vessel would be on a wave crest and the bow and stern in troughs. I think you meant to say sagging.

But sagging or hogging, the big waves would have to be about 600-feet apart. That is a long wavelength, more like oceans waves. The Great Lakes waves are shorter period and steeper waves, so a 700-foot ship would be involved with four or five waves at once.

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Re: November Gales

Postby Hoosier » Mon Nov 26, 2018 5:36 pm

I sit corrected, sagging it be, but it could have been either, the result would have been the same: a broken ship. Anyway, I find it a bit hard to believe that the "brittle steel" argument would apply to all those sinkings; there was something else going on. Big confused waves in bathtubs do strange things. I remember watching surfers in Hawaii get thrown 20' in the air when the reflected wave off the seawall hit the incoming wave "just right".
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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Wed Nov 28, 2018 10:34 am

The brittle steel influence on ship loss was not considered a factor in the Fitz. The Fitz was built in 1958, and the steel used was not the same as that used on the BRADLEY, built 1927, sank 1958 after 31-years of service, and the MORRELL, built 1906, sank 1966 after 60-years of service. The BRADLEY and MORRELL were built with different steel and had been in service much longer than the FITZGERALD.

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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Fri Dec 07, 2018 2:04 pm

Many are familiar with the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, but perhaps very few have made the connection to Great Lakes Gales. The bridge collapse occurred on November 7, 1940 from a storm with winds of about 40-knots. That same low-pressure system then continued across the United States, first heading southeast into the Central Plains, then intensifying, turning northeast, and heading to the Great Lakes, ultimately producing the infamous Armistice Day Storm of 1940 on November 11 and 12. I was unaware of the link between the bridge collapse and the Great Lakes gale that sank five ships and killed about 150 people until it was mentioned in a lecture by Steve Ackerman, a University of Wisconsin professor in a presentation about the weather conditions related to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

armisticedaylowtrack.png
Fig. 3. Weather map showing track of a storm that became the Armistice Day 1940 Storm in the Great Lakes. Note 967.6 mBar pressure on the evening of November 11, 1940 when the storm center reached western Lake Superior. Graphic from a NOAA webpage.
armisticedaylowtrack.png (178.29 KiB) Viewed 3156 times

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Re: November Gales

Postby Dutchman » Fri Dec 07, 2018 2:43 pm

Thanks Jim, that is interesting in regards to the Tacoma bridge incident.
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Re: November Gales

Postby jimh » Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:34 pm

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse was really quite amazing: not that it collapsed, but that there was someone there with a motion picture camera to record it as it happened. That was great timing. Today there would be 500 people with smartphones with cameras shooting something like a suspension bridge swaying in the wind as it happened, but in 1940 motion picture photography was quite a limited field.