The Perfect Storm of 11/11/1940 and the Duck Hunters
The Perfect Storm on Armistice Day, 1940
The day started as a perfect Indian summer, with only a slight wind temperature was about 55 degrees. But sneaking in was a storm from the Pacific Northwest. Typically, those storms would weaken as they crossed the Rockies, but it wouldn't happen that day. It was heading east and would cover a 1000 mile wide berth from Kansas to Michigan. It would become known as the Armistice Day Storm. Today, that day is known as Veterans Day, November 11th.
No one saw a storm brewing, but by mid-day, a soft rain started, and before long, it turned to sleet. By the time the temperature began to fall over 10 degrees, snow was falling. Winds picked up to over 40 mph, gusting to 80 mph. Before the storm was over, the wind chill was minus 55 degrees, and the snowfall measured over 26 inches. There would be a total of 154 lives lost, many of them the duck hunters.
For those duck hunters, they were in heaven when starting to their duck blinds. By the thousands, they geared up, put their waders on, and fine-tuned their duck whistles. Unfortunately, the Indian summer weather gave them a false sense of what clothing to put on. Many had only light-weight clothing and perhaps a light jacket.
This was before high-tech sportswear or waterproof clothing. And it was before cell phones or GPS.
And before the day was over, they would be fighting for their lives trying to get out of the marshes and to the mainland. Fighting the bitter cold and gale-like winds, trying anything to stay warm. Some burned their blinds, overturned their small boats to hide under and burning their decoys in an attempt to stay warm.
Casualties and Heroes of the Armistice Storm
As far as the eastern marshes along lower Michigan and the shores of Lake Erie, duck hunters were scrambling for their lives. The hardest-hit area was along the upper Mississippi River of Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, 85 duck hunters died in the fierce storm, frozen where they lay.
One particular hero was Max Conrad, a pilot of small planes. He flew in the storm, searching for survivors, dropping emergency packages of matches, sandwiches, cigarettes, and matches. He continued circling them till rescue boats could reach the men.
On Lake Michigan, some 66 sailors lost their lives in three freighters. The crews were lost on the SS William B. Davok and the SS Anna O. Minck. On the SS Novadoc, most of their crew were rescued by men who braved the storm to save them.
It wasn't just the duck hunters that died in the storm. A catastrophic number of turkeys perished, over 1.5 million of them. Farmers had to sell turkeys for as little as .25, a huge loss. Along with turkeys, hundreds of cattle and ducks froze to death.
Changes Made After the Storm
That storm led to significant changes in weather forecasting in the Midwest. At the time of the Armistice Day storm, the National Weather station was in Chicago, Ill that prepared the forecast. After the storm, the Twin Cities, Minnesota got its weather forecasting station. Meteorologists called the Armistice Say storm a "bomb." Air pressure fell over 24 millibars in 24 hours—an almost unheard of drop. Could this kind of storm happen again? No one can predict that it couldn't happen again.
One of the best books describing in detail the Armistice Day storm is by William H. Hill. Hill interviewed over 500 survivors about their experiences, and then he included over 150 first-hand narratives in his book. His book details the disastrous storm and the stuff of legends of survivors. All Hell Broke Loose
- US Fish and Wildlife
- history byZim
- US Weather