Book Review: November’s Fury: The Deadly Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913

November’s Fury: The Deadly Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913 by Michael Schumacher presents a detailed account of the worst storm on the Great Lakes in recorded history. Michael Schumacher is the author of several books including The Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Biographical information on the author is scarce, but his other books include biographies of Allen Ginsberg and Eric Clapton among others. 

From November 7th through November 11th a perfect storm swept though the Great Lakes region. Two major storm fronts converged over the region of warm water creating hurricane force winds and blinding snow storms and huge waves. The city of Cleveland was isolated from the rest of the world as the storm knocked out electrical and communications lines. On the waters of the Great Lakes, over 250 sailors would lose their lives as 40 ships were damaged. Among the damaged ships 12 sank and five have yet to be found. 

It is hard to believe today that so many ships could be lost in a storm. The Great Lakes are no where near the size of the Gulf of Mexico or the oceans where hurricanes form. The ships on the Great Lakes hauling ore and coal were 400 – 550 feet long. These ships are huge for freshwater shipping and looking at them, its unimaginable that they could sink in a storm. This was before radar, GPS, and storm tracking. Granted the weather service did issue warnings a combination of hubris, greed, and bad planning caused a large loss of life. For the residents of Cleveland there was little that could be done. Winter storms and lake effect snow are expected yearly, however, he severity cannot prevented or at that time accurately anticipated. 

Cleveland lay in white and mighty solitude, mute and death to the outside world, a city of lonesome snowiness, storm swept from end to end – The Cleveland Plain Dealer

I grew up in Cleveland and studied Cleveland history in grade school, but don’t recall the reading about the storm of November 1913. We were aware or the shipping dangers of Great Lakes and lake effect storms. I am old enough to remember when the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a storm on Lake Superior. Even 60 years more modern than the ships lost in 1913 and it immense size of 729 feet, it too could not stand up to the punishment the Great Lakes can dish out. This is a tragedy that hopefully can be avoided in the future with current storm tracking and navigation technology.

November’s Fury is well written and tells an amazing story. At times it is hard to believe that you are reading non-fiction. The damage storm and loss of life seem beyond anything experienced real life. Schumacher weaves together the individual accounts of each ship into a compelling story. There are courageous acts as well as foolish acts (which many were just standard procedure at the time) as well. This book is a valuable history and recommended to those interested in maritime history or the Great Lakes.

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