'November Witch' storm brings high winds to Great Lakes, Plains, Midwest
On par with past storms, known locally as the "witches of November" and virtually on the exact date of the storm that sunk the iron ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald 40 years ago, a powerful low-pressure system is intensifying and has begun to spread a swath of high winds through the Plains states. Those winds will spread across the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley through Friday.
The low's central pressure had fallen to 986 millibars (29.12 inches of mercury) over north-central Iowa early Wednesday evening, the sign of a strong and still-intensifying cyclone.
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Due to the pressure difference between the cyclone's low pressure and a zone of high pressure over the Northwest, strong damaging winds have developed.
High wind warnings and less-serious wind advisories have been issued by the National Weather Service. The high wind warnings include several areas from South Dakota and Nebraska eastward to parts of upstate New York.
Sustained winds topping 35 mph and gusts up to 60 mph are possible in these areas. Such winds developed over a large part of the central and southern Plains Wednesday, and are expected to develop in parts of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Thursday.
Those winds led to a variety of impacts Wednesday afternoon:
- A roof was blown off a house in Pomona, Kansas.
- A tractor-trailer was blown over in Ottawa, Kansas.
- Winds gusted over 60 mph in the Kansas City area, causing more than 12,000 customers to lose power as of 3 p.m.
- Trees fell onto houses in Topeka and Columbus, Kansas.
- Trees and power lines were downed in many communities across eastern Kansas and far western Missouri.
- Wildfires in Washington County, Oklahoma, just north of Tulsa, consumed a barn and other nearby structures.
- Areas of blowing dust on the Plains may also reduce visibility.
- Enhanced wildfire danger across the southern to central Plains, particularly in areas that saw little to no preciptiation on Wednesday.
- Large waves on the Great Lakes could result in some coastal flooding, including beach and dune erosion on downwind lakeshores.
- Some flight delays are possible due to the winds, particularly at Chicago-O'Hare Airport.
Here is a timeline of when and where the strongest winds are expected.
Low pressure will track from Wisconsin to the Upper Great Lakes. The strongest winds will be west and south of the low-pressure center.
Strong west winds will howl through much of the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, upper and middle Mississippi Valley, Missouri Valley and northern Plains.
The strongest winds will occur through the afternoon in these areas, with some gusts up to 60 mph possible.
While wind speeds typically die down after sunset, some gusts over 50 mph may persist over and downwind of southern Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Incidentally, those cold winds will combine with the cooling and lift provided by a vigorous upper-level low-pressure system to change precipitation to wet snow in northeast Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan late Thursday and Thursday night.
The surface low-pressure center will be slow to decay over eastern Canada or northern New England, so strong winds are likely to linger in some areas Friday.
Much of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley will continue to see occasional gusts at least to 45 mph, particularly Friday afternoon.
The strongest winds again will be over the Great Lakes themselves, particularly over Lakes Erie and Ontario, as well as downwind lakeshores, where some lakeshore flooding is possible.
Wind gusts to 50 mph are also possible over the highest terrain of the Appalachians and Adirondacks.
A few gusts over 40 mph are possible at times in parts of the Northeast I-95 corridor, from southern Maine to the Nation's Capital.
Lake-enhanced snow and rain will persist in the Great Lakes, with several more inches of wet snow accumulations likely in the Lake Superior snowbelt. The combination of wind-driven wet snow accumulating on trees and powerlines may lead to downed limbs and power outages in these areas.
Past "Witches of November"
Early November – and late October, for that matter – has a long, notorious history of intense Midwest windstorms that have proven deadly for Great Lakes shipping.
Weather Underground historian Christopher Burt discussed this in a 2010 blog written after another such storm – the "Octobomb"– raked through the Midwest Oct. 25-27, 2010, and set all-time low pressure records in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Known locally as the "Witches of November" and mentioned in singer Gordon Lightfoot's iconic "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" about the 1975 storm responsible for sinking the huge iron-ore ship in Lake Superior, these Great Lakes storms don't always produce much snow, but their fierce winds are a signature feature.
This storm's minimum low pressure near the Great Lakes may be comparable to the Edmund Fitzgerald 1975 storm, but its pressure gradient, which ultimately drives wind speeds, is expected to be less, according to winter weather expert Tom Niziolof The Weather Channel.
Another such storm 17 years ago was actually stronger than the 1975 Edmund Fitzgerald storm, and produced wind gusts over 70 mph in some areas of the Great Lakes.
For example, one of Minnesota's most notorious blizzards took place on Armistice Day 1940, where winds whipped snow drifts up to 20 feet deep and a number of ships were sunk on Lake Michigan. The blizzard killed 154, according to Burt. Sixty-six sailors were killed in the Lake Michigan ship sinkings.
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