Re-examining the Wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald Using ERA5

The Gales of November

Came early on November 10th, 1975 as the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald sailed across Lake Superior en route from Duluth to Detroit. The storm developed rapidly as it moved from Iowa through Wisconsin and eventually across Lake Superior.

After holding her own in the face of 35-40kt northeast winds for much of the morning, the Fitzgerald enjoyed a brief period of calm in the storm’s center before being overtaken by howling west-northwest winds pushing cold air in from Canada. These winds and the towering waves they produced would bring the Fitzgerald down shortly after 6:10 PM EST November 10th, 1975. All 29 crewmembers aboard were lost in the wreck, which inspired Gordon Lightfoot’s popular song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

As the storm strengthened, its wind field did too, especially over the Great Lakes where the relatively smooth surface (compared to the land at least) supported less friction and faster wind speeds.

Note the steady intensification of the storm’s wind field as it approaches Lake Superior, as well as the rapid increase in winds experienced by the Fitzgerald as it moved east-southeast from underneath the storm’s center towards Whitefish Bay.

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