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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
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Beware of the “November Witch!”

Beware of the “November Witch!”

If you thought that all of the “witches” packed it in after extorting candy from you on Halloween night, think again! Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West has nothing on the dreaded “November Witch,” the cruelest witch of all.

The November Witch, sometimes phrased as “the Witch of November,” is a popular name for the frequent and brutal system of windy storms that come screaming across the Great Lakes from Canada every autumn.

Though termed “lakes,” North America’s Great Lakes are each large enough to create their own weather systems, making them, more accurately, inland seas. In fact, collectively, the Great Lakes chain makes up the Earth’s largest system of freshwater seas. Each year, right around mid-November, violent gales occur when the low pressure from the frigid arctic air north of the lakes come into contact with warmer fronts pulled up from the Gulf of Mexico. These storms can be so severe that their force is equivalent to a low-level hurricane, with winds above 80 miles per hour and towering 20-foot seas.

This year, the November Witch made an early appearance, with gale-force winds battering Minnesota and Wisconsin with record low barometric pressure during the night and early morning of October 26 and 27, though this is unlikely to be the last we see of her this season.

SS Edmund Fitzgerald

SS Edmund Fitzgerald - Courtesy of NOAA

The term “Witch of November” was famously used in the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, a poetic tribute to one of the most well-known Great Lakes shipwrecks in recent memory. On November 10, 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a massive ore freighter that had once been the largest in its class, sank to the bottom of Lake Superior during a particularly violent autumn gale, killing all 29 of its crew members.

Though one of the most infamous, the Edmund Fitzgerald was far from the only ship to succumb to the Witch of November. The floors of all five Great Lakes are littered with thousands of wrecked vessels. More than 6,000 ships were lost on the Great Lakes between the years of 1878 and 1897 alone. Over the last 300 years, an estimated 25,000 mariners have lost their lives on the Great Lakes, with the vast majority of those casualties occurring within the icy grip of the November Witch.

18 comments

1 stinkyfinger { 11.25.13 at 8:02 am }

interesting but what about the weather system.

2 badnonnie { 11.07.13 at 12:39 am }

Great story the forces of nature always hold me in awe @Frutero…wow

3 Ruth { 11.05.13 at 12:31 am }

Thank you for the good history lesson. Love that eerie Lightfoot song and now understand it better.

4 Ronald J LaCourse { 11.04.13 at 9:59 pm }

Love that song of the Edmund Fitzgerald and this is certainly very informative. Thank you.

5 Billy Bob Joe { 10.16.12 at 11:23 am }

This Is the best site ever

6 stupid { 10.16.12 at 11:16 am }

THIS IS SO AWESOME

7 Frances Taylor { 11.18.10 at 11:54 am }

I really enjoyed reading this and the the comments. These are facts that I never knew before. I also have listened to the song but really never thought much about the words. I will listen more closely the next time I hear it. The Farmers Almanac just keeps getting “gooder and gooder” with each passing year.

8 Judy { 11.10.10 at 10:59 pm }

Living on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, we are very familiar with the gales of November. As soon as gale warnings are issued, the roads become clogged with locals driving to the lake to see the enormous waves. This summer also has claimed many lives due to rough seas and rip tides and undertow. Say a prayer for all of the lives lost to the exciting but occasionally cruel waters of the Great Lakes.

9 Jenny Jankosky { 11.10.10 at 6:07 pm }

I had never heard of the “November Witch” before. My sister-in-law, who lives in Chicago, made a comment on facebook in regard to this term, so I looked it up. Very interesting article! I learned something today. — I have heard the song “the Edmund Fitzgerald”. Even sung it. But, obviously… I had not paid close enough attention to the words. Next time I hear it, you can be sure I will.

10 Jimmy Repass { 11.10.10 at 5:54 pm }

yes november can be very cruel and vengence month and my thoughts and prayers are with the crew of the edmund fitzgerald,” god rest their souls” and to their families, they went to the sea, never to return, but thier deaths were an honorable death and thier souls are with God , no one can harm them now !!!

11 Melody { 11.10.10 at 5:41 pm }

God Rest the Souls of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald-35 years ago today.

12 Denice Allen { 11.10.10 at 2:46 pm }

I learned alot reading this story. My husband and I went to whitefish point in october on our honeymoon, the wind on the beach was so strong. I understand why ships have a hard time out there, the wind isnt that strong on lake michigan .

13 Tony { 11.10.10 at 1:13 pm }

God Bless the 29 souls of the Edmund Fitzgerald,who went down 35yrs ago today.

14 Susan Dawson { 11.10.10 at 11:54 am }

And we think we control the weather. I have seen a few of those storms on the news and they arn’t pretty.

15 Aminal { 11.10.10 at 11:18 am }

My mother was born on Beaver Island in June of 1913, that November the “witch” took the lives of more that 250 mariners, in the greatest storm to hit the lakes. I was 9 when the Bradley went down south of the Beavers. Many books of the storms of the lakes have been published.

16 Thomas J McAvoy { 11.10.10 at 11:10 am }

Great story. Interesting and very informative.

17 Kevin Murphy { 11.10.10 at 10:32 am }

The play “10 November”–which we saw perhaps 20 years ago–told the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s final voyage very powerfully. I am surprised that the play seems to have dropped out of sight, as the story that it presented was timeless.

18 Frutero { 11.08.10 at 12:53 pm }

I was not quite thirteen when the Carl Bradley broke up just south of the Straits of Mackinaw, and she was not the first. The ship my dad last served on, the Steel Vendor, went down in Lake Superior a couple of years before I was born, partly from the Witch and partly from badly secured cargo, which exacerbated the wave action. Folklore had it that “witches” could bring storm and rain by using their brooms to stir water in their cauldrons, but in likelihood that harked back to early medieval warfare, when the last line of defense against a castle siege was sturdy kitchen wenches standing on the battlements with boiling tarpots, which they poured down on anyone attempting to raise a scaling ladder. The last words of any siege engineer falling to fiery ruin were likely to be, “that @%*#”~«»¡¤ ==itch!” And thus, a legend started.

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