It was during a fierce Lake Superior storm 40 years ago next week that the Edmund Fitzgerald sank off Whitefish Bay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. All 29 crewmembers on board were lost.
Great Lakes Oceanographer Dave Schwab at the University of Michigan’s Water Center has written about the extreme weather conditions during that November storm and—starting shortly after that tragedy—he led the development of a system that today provides detailed forecast maps of Great Lakes weather conditions.
Ten years ago, Schwab and his colleagues used computer models to try and understand the conditions on Lake Superior on November 10th, 1975. They calculated that at the time the Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared, the winds on Lake Superior would have generated waves nearly 25 feet high, driven by hurricane-force gusts of wind and sustained winds of 60 to 70 miles per hour – when conditions were at their worst.
The tragedy 40 years ago was subsequently immortalized in the Gordon Lightfoot song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and each year the Mariner’s Church in Detroit holds a special service on the anniversary to mark the loss. Another legacy – of perhaps greater importance to mariners – are the series of NOAA weather buoys stationed around the Great Lakes, that now allows Schwab to make his forecasts of wave and weather conditions up to 10 days in advance.