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The Perfect Storm on Armistice Day, 1940
The day started as a perfect summer day: there was only a slight wind and the 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 burned 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.
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Changes Made After the Storm
That storm led to significant changes in weather forecasting in the Midwest. On the day of the Armistice Day storm, the National Weather station in Chicago did not predict the storm in time. 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 All Hell Broke Loose 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.
- US Fish and Wildlife
- history byZim
- US Weather
Rosina S Khan on June 11, 2020:
Fran, can you see the recent message from me on this page? If not, please check out my profile page for my new article, Part 13 of my story series, "Keily, the Bookworm". I say so because I haven't seen any feedback from you yet on the new article page.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on June 11, 2020:
Thank you for reading. yes, it was such an unexpected storm leaving tragedy.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 11, 2020:
I had not heard of this storm before. It's so sad that it caused such big losses.
Rosina S Khan on June 11, 2020:
Fran, I have authored a new part, Part-13 of "Keily, the Bookworm" series. I hope you will read it and leave your feedback in the comments section of the article. Here is the link:
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on June 10, 2020:
Thanks for reading and commenting
Rosina S Khan on June 10, 2020:
It was a tragic Armistice Storm in 1940 killing duck hunters, sailors in freights along with animals on land. It is good that measures were taken later should such a storm arise again. Thanks for sharing a well-written hub full of photos.