White Hurricane: A Great Lakes November Gale and America's Deadliest Maritime Disaster

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9780071380379: White Hurricane: A Great Lakes November Gale and America's Deadliest Maritime Disaster

In early November 1913, not quite 19 months after the loss of the Titanic in midatlantic, an autumn gale descended on the Great Lakes. "Gales of November" - like the one that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald in the 1970s - are a fact of life for Great Lakes mariners, but this one was anything but ordinary. Meteorologists now believe that a blast of cold polar air met a warm, moist air mass entrained in a low-pressure cell moving up from the Gulf of Mexico through the U.S. heartland, and the result was a violent weather "bomb" and the worst recorded storm in Great Lakes history. The storm lasted four days, with sustained winds as high as 75 miles per hour, freezing temperatures, white-out blizzard conditions, and mountainous seas. Though the U.S. Department of Agriculture's weather bureau (forerunner of the U.S. Weather Bureau) issued storm warnings on Friday morning, November 7, the warnings contained no hint of anything more than 50-mile-per-hour winds for Friday and Saturday. Most ships were making their final trips of the season; their captains knew that as autumn turned to winter the weather would only get worse, and then the lakes would freeze. Across the Great Lakes, hundreds of ships left port that weekend, heading directly into the jaws of what became a survival storm. On the ocean, with sea room, a well-found ship can often survive by running off before a storm until it blows out. On the Great Lakes there is never sufficient sea room. In the driving snow, ship masters could only guess where the treacherous shores lay. Ships iced up and became topheavy; some turned turtle. By Monday evening 19 ships had sunk, another two dozen were driven ashore, and at least 238 sailors had lost their lives. The city of Cleveland, buried under 22 inches of snow that drifted up to second-story eaves, and facing shortages of milk, bread, and meat, was confronting the worst natural disaster in its history. White Hurricane recreates the four-day storm with narrative intensity and factual depth. To make sense of this big, sprawling, multifaceted story, author David Brown develops it chronologically and focuses on the most exciting human dramas. One or two ships in each of the four hardest hit lakes - Superior, Huron, Michigan, and Erie - carry the narrative, while other disasters are reported more briefly as they occur. The featured ships are those that left in the newspaper archives and other original and secondary sources the richest, most exciting, most mysterious, and most humanly moving stories. The destructive impacts ashore - especially the privations in Cleveland - weave another narrative strand. On Lake Huron, for example, we meet the Regina, a small Canadian package freighter, as it takes on cargo Thursday at Port Huron. On Sunday, despite gale-force winds, the Regina, the Charles S. Price, and the H.A. Hawgood all leave the sheltered St. Clair River to steam north on Huron. The Regina gets as far north as Saginaw Bay before turning back. The Price and Hawgood also turn around. By dark, the Hawgood is stranded on a Canadian beach and the other ships are missing. Residents of Harbor Beach, Michigan, hear the whistle of a ship in distress just offshore, but can do nothing. The Revenue Cutter Service (forerunner to the U.S. Coast Guard) sends its only Lake Huron rescue vessel to Lake Erie to aid a vessel that, it turns out, doesn't need help. Later, the bodies of Regina's crew and the wreckage of one of her lifeboats wash ashore on the Canadian side of the lake. Intermingled are bodies from the Charles S. Price, one reportedly even wearing a Regina life jacket - leading to an enduring mystery concerning what exactly happened out there. On Lake Huron, for example, we meet the Regina, a small Canadian package freighter, as it takes on cargo Thursday at Port Huron. On Sunday, despite gale-force winds, the Regina, the Charles S. Price, and the H.A. Hawgood all leave the sheltered St. Clair River to steam north on Huron. The Regina gets as far north as Saginaw Bay before turning back. The Price and Hawgood also turn around. By dark, the Hawgood is stranded on a Canadian beach and the other ships are missing. Residents of Harbor Beach, Michigan, hear the whistle of a ship in distress just offshore, but can do nothing. The Revenue Cutter Service (forerunner to the U.S. Coast Guard) sends its only Lake Huron rescue vessel to Lake Erie to aid a vessel that, it turns out, doesn't need help. Later, the bodies of Regina's crew and the wreckage of one of her lifeboats wash ashore on the Canadian side of the lake. Intermingled are bodies from the Charles S. Price, one reportedly even wearing a Regina life jacket - leading to an enduring mystery concerning what exactly happened out there. The book's prologue and epilogue follow ripples from the long-ago storm into the recent past. In the prologue, we trace a diver's discovery of the Regina - the ship that disappeared--in the 1980s. Her overturned hull and bar-taut anchor chain provide mute testimony to the 70 years before. In the epilogue, two divers become the 239th and 240th victims of the storm in the summer of 2000, as they dive on the Regina. The U.S. Weather Bureau and the U.S. Coast Guard owe their existence in part to the Storm of 1913. Like Isaac's Storm and The Heart of the Sea, White Hurricane is both thrilling narrative and scrupulous history. This is the book that carries The Perfect Storm to the heart of America, and David Brown, a Great Lakes mariner and writer and the author of The Last Log of the Titanic, is the ideal guide.

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Review:

A riveting, well researched account of the worst Great Lakes storm on record. A fascinating read. - Inland Seas: Quarterly Journal of the Great Lakes Historical Society; Brings history to life in a book as readable as any novel. - Good Old Boat; A great read. - Grand Rapids Press

From the Back Cover:

Great Lakes mariners fear the gales of November. Six to ten thousand vessels litter the lake bottoms, a disproportionate share from LaSalle's Le Griffon in 1679 to the mighty Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 lost in autumn storms. No one, however, was prepared for the killing wind that materialized from the unusually balmy days of early November 1913. On Friday, November 7, as hundreds of ships left port on their final trips of the season, a deadly atmospheric disturbance was already churning Lake Superior and spreading east. By Sunday night, Lake Huron was battered by winds up to 90 miles an hour, whiteout blizzard conditions, and mountainous 35-foot waves. The White Hurricane became the worst Great Lakes storm on record, the monstrous product of a meteorological chain of cause and effect that has yet to repeat itself. Twelve ships sank, and thirty-one more were stranded on rocks and beaches. At least 248 sailors lost their lives, and the city of Cleveland faced the worst natural disaster in its history.

In White Hurricane, nationally recognized nautical writer and experienced Great Lakes mariner David Brown re-creates the desperate struggles for survival aboard doomed and damaged vessels and on shore. Using first-hand accounts and contemporary newspaper reports, he reconstructs the progress of the storm in a tight chronology packed with vivid detail and unforgettable drama. He re-creates the long and desperate hours as captains blinded by driving snow tried to guess where treacherous shorelines lay; as layers of ice made ships top-heavy and threatened to capsize them; as rivets exploded like popcorn from hull plating; as sailors in one storm-tossed freighter watched a crack open up across their steel deck; and as the crew of another stood frozen in horror while a passing vessel broke up and sank before their eyes. And he does what the fledgling U.S. Weather Bureau of 1913 could not do: dissect the storm itself to highlight its hour-by-hour development.

The storm left mystery as well as devastation in its wake. Why, for instance, was the body of a crewman from the Charles S. Price found wearing a life jacket from another doomed ship, the Regina? Why did the Henry B. Smith set out into the Lake Superior blizzard with its hatches still open, never to be seen again? What turned the south end of Lake Huron into a killing zone Sunday night, and why were so many ships caught there? Brown follows all these strands deep into the heart of the storm, meeting the people who lived and died there, including the eighteen-year-old helmsman who may have saved the lives of his entire crew by disobeying his captain's order; the ship's engineer who was stirred by a premonition to quit his ship just before the season's final voyage, then met his shipmates again a few days later under far different circumstances; and the young captain who saw his crew into a lifeboat, then retired to his cabin to die.

White Hurricane tells a big, multifaceted story that sprawls across nearly a thousand miles of storm-ravaged inland sea, combining a fast-paced narrative with scrupulous history and telling detail.

A Riveting Account of the 1913 Storm That Paralyzed the Heart of America

"Ships in the grasp of the storm were on their own, beyond human aid. No matter what happened, they were cut off from potential rescue by the fierceness of the winds and the height of the waves. Even though their anchor held, Regina's crew recognized their perilous situation. The pumps were no longer controlling the flooding, and their ship was becoming waterlogged. It would be only a matter of time before the small freighter succumbed to Lake Huron. Staying aboard a sinking ship was certain doom. If they were to survive, the crew realized they were going to have to rescue themselves." from White Hurricane

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