Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

Sunday’s violent winds, waves similar to storm that sank famous Edmund Fitzgerald

Feb 25, 2019 01:40PM ● By Editor

Image of the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck taken during a dive in 1995 to recover the ship's bell. The ship sank in a storm off Whitefish Point in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975. (Courtesy | Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum)

By Tanda Gmiter of

LAKE SUPERIOR, MI - Today’s dangerously high winds across Michigan - and the monster waves this is expected to whip up on Lake Superior - has a somber significance for Great Lakes ship enthusiasts.

This fast-dropping, low-pressure system is called a “bomb cyclone,” and it’s similar to the storm conditions on Lake Superior the night the Edmund Fitzgerald tragically sank and broke in two, taking all 29 men aboard down with her. The big freighter was just 17 miles from the safety of Lake Superior’s Whitefish Point when she went down in a violent storm on Nov 10, 1975.

But one of the places they will likely max out is Whitefish Point in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

A storm warning that went into effect for that area Sunday calls for strengthening winds and waves on Lake Superior that will reach their peak after dark tonight.

The National Weather Service said that area can expect sustained winds of up to 56 mph, with gusts topping 72 mph.

“The largest expected significant waves will be 23 feet, with a maximum wave height of up to 34 feet possible,” the NWS office in Marquette said. “The maximum winds are expected around 8 p.m. Sunday, with the largest waves expected around 11 p.m. Sunday.”

Meteorologists have issued this warning for anyone out on the lake: “Commercial vessels should remain in port, or take shelter until strong winds and waves subside. Commercial vessels should prepare for very strong winds and dangerous sea conditions.”On the night the 729-foot Fitzgerald went down, the big, ore-hauling laker was in the worst spot of the storm, at the worst time possible. Meteorologists later determined there were sustained winds of 55 mph during that time, with some waves topping 25 feet.

Jim Lehocky, one of the editors who contributes to the Facebook page of DRE Designs - Great Lakes Marine Products, mapped out the similarity between today’s low-pressure system and the Fitzgerald’s storm:

“Let’s focus on the storm as it departs the region Sunday afternoon into the overnight hours,” he wrote.

“The predicted central area of lowest pressure as it moves to the east of (Sault Ste. Marie) Sunday afternoon is around 28.65. It will continue to deepen (get stronger) a bit more as it moves well east of us.

“The central area of low pressure on the storm that help bring down the Edmund Fitzgerald was around 28.95. Wind speeds associated with that storm across eastern Lake Superior were incredible. This produced estimated sustained winds of 52 mph for 6-7 hours ... with gusts over 80 mph at times.”

MLive Meteorologist Mark Torregrossa concurs it’s a similar low-pressure system. The big difference now, of course, is that winter means the Soo Locks are drained of their water and closed for maintenance, and big ships are not crossing in and out of Lake Superior.

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here