National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Armistice Day Storm of 1940:  Marine

Jeff Boyne, NWS La Crosse, WI

Main Page Weather Pattern Sea Level Pressure Winds Snowfall Marine
Media Accounts Personal Accounts Photos Aftermath Computer Simulation Acknowledgements


The storm of November 11, 1940 was one of the most severe of record affecting the Upper Great Lakes.  Though the loss of life on the Great Lakes in this storm was much smaller than in the case of the November 1913 disaster, nevertheless, this storm must be considered as one of the most devastating ever to sweep the Upper Great Lakes Region.

Lake Michigan

The greatest losses were on Lake Michigan which felt the full fury of the southwest gales.  Three steamers were sunk, a number of others were grounded, and several smaller boats were lost.  Possibly because early in the day the wind was from the southeast and increasing, some of the captains navigated their vessels near the east shore of Lake Michigan; the sudden shift to southwest gales later proved disastrous, as the steamers were practically helpless because they could not run before the storm nor withstand the battering which would result from heading into gale and high waves.  The three freighters that foundered all sank off Pentwater, near Ludington, Michigan, with loss of life as follows:  William B. Davock, 33; Anna C. Minch, 24; and Novadoc, 2.

Other drownings occurred when the fishing tugs Indian and Richard H. and the motor cruiser Nancy Jane, with a total of 10 persons aboard, were lost on the southern end of Lake Michigan.

Ships reported as driven ashore or on reefs, in addition to many smaller boats, were:  Sinaloa at Escanaba; City of Flint at Ludington; Conneaut on the north shore of Straits of Mackinac; Frank J. Peterson on St. Helena Island (reported as abandoned on November 21).

Other vessels, including Joseph Block and New Haven Socony, were badly battered, but eventually made port.

The effect of the sustained southwest gale on the water level of Lake Michigan is indicated by reports of a drop of 4.8 feet at Chicago, a rise of 4 to 4.5 feet at Beaver Island.  A lowering of the Fox River by about 5 feet, the result of south and southwest winds, forced paper mills and a power plant to suspend operations at Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Lake Superior

On Lake Superior comparatively little damage occurred, and no loss of life was reported though two fishermen may have perished in Whitefish Bay.  The shifting gales on the extreme western end of the lake were responsible for the breaking loose and the plunging over-board on a number of automobiles from the deck of the steamer Crescent City.  Captain Harold B. McCool, master of the vessel, reported that the gale was the worst he had experienced on the Great Lakes in more than 40 years of service, and is quoted as saying "In my opinion, the storm was even more severe than the disastrous storm during the Fall of 1913" (November 1913).  The freighter Sparta was lost after grounding on the rocks 5 miles east of Munising on the night of November 12, but no loss of life occurred.

Lake Huron

Lake Huron traffic sustained losses small in comparison to those that might have resulted if the severe gales had been on-shore instead of off-shore.  Damage was mostly to small craft, and no fatalities were reported.  Fishing boats made shelter, but losses to nets were considerable.

The Alpena office supplied the following graphic account by the master of the steamer Wyandotte:

The Wyandotte, a large freighter carrying 2,700 tons of coal and bound for Alpena, was off Saginaw Bay at the height of the storm.  The sea broke over her decks in solid sheets.  The storm was of such fury that water actually poured into her smoke stack at times.  Normally an 11-mile-an-hour vessel, the freighter in some places could make no better headway than 2-3 miles an hour.

The lake levels dropped about 2 feet at Alpena; and at Saginaw Bay the water receded a mile in some places, lowering the Saginaw River as much as 8 feet at its mouth, and 9 feet 15 miles upstream at the Consumers Power plant which had to be shut down.  At Bay City, the receding water caused water supply intake pipes to be exposed; thus, necessitating the pumping of water from reservoirs.

Lower Lakes

Lakes Erie and Ontario, though lashed with gales, were far enough from the storm center to escape with only minor damage to shipping.  The water level in the lower Detroit River was lowered about 4.5 feet by the strong winds on Lake Erie.