10 November 2015

40 Years Ago Today: Does Anyone Know, Where the Love of God Goes, When the Waves Turn The Minutes to Hours.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Ctsy. Metr. Mark Torregrossa See the link below for more on this image.

From. Metr. Mark Torregrossa. 

Forty years ago today, mariners on the Great Lakes were hanging on for their lives, and over 200 of them did not succeed. An intense low pressure system was crossing the Great Lakes, with winds gusting to well above hurricane force, and waves the size of mountains. That storm would not likely be remembered by many 40 years later but for the loss of a ship and a famous ballad. When the large iron ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared in the wind whipped spray, it took 29 people to their deaths, and a few years later Gordon Lightfoot wrote a popular ballad about the ship and the storm. His words paint a vivid picture in the mind, that made the song famous as well as the storm..

Numerical models were very low resolution in those days, and they badly missed the intensity of this storm. I remember it well, along with the news coverage and the search for survivors. The map below shows the surface low over the lakes 40 years ago today, but satellite images of the event are poor, since most of the GOES Archives start about 4-5 years later. Interestingly, we can now take modern computer models, and use the initial surface/ upper air data collected in the day before the storm, to see how the storm would be predicted today. Meteorologist Mark Torregrossa has a good discussion of  just how strong it was, and It set pressure records in the region that still stand today. In addition, the folks at CIMMS at the Univ. of Wisconsin have some poor imagery from polar orbiting satellites, and a nice discussion of the storm is also here.

There is an excellent paper in the 2006 BAMS that goes into detail about the storm, with some excellent weather charts, and you can see some old TV reports from WILX-TV  in a nice report marking the anniversary..

-362c8b354a930e97By Gordon Lightfoot:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
Then later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
When the wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
‘Twas the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck
Sayin’ “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya”
At seven PM a main hatchway caved in
He said, “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya”
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below, Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early