The Big Blow of 1913

November is readily acknowledged as the stormiest month on the Great Lakes. Each year around the beginning of this steely month, over the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, two storm tracks converge. From the north bear down the Alberta Clippers, full of freezing polar air. From the lee slopes of the Rockies and across the prairie come the heavy, snow-laden fronts. When the storms hit the lakes, the cold air masses pass over waters that are still holding remnants of their summer warmth. The barometric pressure can plummet and the winds can whip up to hurricane force. Waves will build to over forty feet, and the sky is filled with rain, snow, and sleet.

The measure of November storms is still the “Big Blow” of 1913. For four days, it engulfed all five of the Great Lakes, blasting in from the northwest as both gale and blizzard. On Superior, the Henry B. Smith disappeared off Marquette with all twenty-five hands. That wreck has never been found. On Lake Huron, 178 seamen were lost in eight separate wrecks, all with no survivors. The winds at the southern end of the lake whipped 640,000 cubic feet of sand across Port Huron canal, completely blocking passage. The captain of the steamer Argo declared that the storm blew his cargo of lumber into the sea “like toothpicks.” Twenty-two inches of snow fell on Cleveland and the winds across Lake Erie were so steady and strong that the lake was literally pushed eastward, dropping the level along the western shore by six feet.

When the storm was over, twenty ships were lost and tens more were badly damaged. More than 250 men and women died. It was the deadliest storm on the Lakes.