The Ultimate Storm

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One more. The steamer H. B. Hawgood , running light (that is, without cargo), came out into Lake Huron and got the full force of the storm without delay. She was completely helpless, unable to steam ahead or to maneuver. Her captain anchored, but he might as well have saved himself the trouble; after dragging her anchors for eight miles, the Hawgood hit the beach, and all hands eventually were rescued. The captain remarked afterward, “But for the crash on the beach just in time, there would have been another missing ship.” He added, “By God, that wind blew full seventy-five miles an hour.”

The great center for steamboat ownership and control in those days (and to a large extent today) was Cleveland. Due to an oddity of the storm, Cleveland was probably the last place on the lakes to get a clear picture of the disaster that had befallen her cargo carriers.

The storm hit Cleveland on Sunday and Monday, and for the time being the city was completely isolated. Railroad trains could not get in or out, streetcar and interurban systems were paralyzed, city traffic was hopelessly blocked—snowdrifts eight feet deep were reported on some streets—and telegraph lines were down. It was days before Cleveland knew what had happened out on the open lakes.

As a matter of fact, it was days before anyone knew the extent of the damage, for many of the boats that survived the storm were long overdue when they made port. On Lake Superior and the upper end of Lake Huron, many craft edging their way into port were all but unrecognizable because of the masses of ice that had formed around their deckhouses and pilothouses. In most cases crewmen took axes to chop away enough ice so that the man at the wheel could see where he was going; in other cases it was necessary to hook up steam hoses and melt the ice.

The lakes are still hit by prodigious storms now and then, and stout cargo carriers are still lost, but there has never been anything like the big storm of 1913, and there probably never will be, because equipment has improved. Hatch covers today are much stronger, more solidly fastened, almost impossible to dislodge. Radio beacons give shipmasters a clear guide, even when snow and ice and wrecked lightships make it impossible for a skipper to see where he is going. Ship-to-shore communications now make it possible for a captain to get up-to-the-minute weather forecasts. It is highly unlikely that the disaster of 1913 could ever be repeated.

Nobody on the lakes will miss it.