Storm slows shipping on Great LakesFrankenstorm, the monster storm created by the combination of Hurricane Sandy with a western winter storm and a blast of Arctic air, is roiling the waters of the Great Lakes.
By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune
Frankenstorm, the monster storm created by the combination of Hurricane Sandy with a western winter storm and a blast of Arctic air, is roiling the waters of the Great Lakes.
“The Great Lakes are experiencing some of the worst weather — worst wind and waves — I have ever seen,” said James D. Sharrow, facilities manager of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. Sharrow, who joined the USS Great Lakes Fleet in 1974, added Monday: “Basically, shipping is pretty much coming to a stop on the lower four lakes.”
Waves in some areas of the open waters (more than five nautical miles from shore) of Lake Michigan will be 20 to 25 feet high, and occasionally up to 33 feet high today, the National Weather Service predicted Monday. Gale winds from the north will measure 50 knots with gusts to 55 knots. The waves will subside to 15 to 20 feet high — occasionally to 28 feet — tonight. On Wednesday they will subside to 12 to 15 feet, occasionally to 20 feet.
“Lakes Erie and Ontario have similar if not worst conditions but, because of the size of the lakes, a little bit smaller waves,” Sharrow said. “These are extreme conditions.”
Because of its location farther west, conditions on Lake Superior will not be as extreme. For western Lake Superior, waves are expected to build to 5 to 8 feet today.
Conditions will be worse elsewhere on the lake, with gale warnings in effect. Open-water waves of 10 to 13 feet are predicted today in eastern Lake Superior, 10 to 14 feet on the south-central lake, and 8 to 11 feet on the north-central lake, the National Weather Service said.
“What we’re hearing is that the ships (on Superior) are going to be moving pretty normally to their destination ports, and then heading back toward the Soo … but probably wouldn’t leave Lake Superior or get very far beyond the lake for a couple days,” Sharrow said.
It’s not clear how much the extreme conditions will affect ocean-going ships on the lower lakes.
“Salties are designed for more extreme weather and waves than the lakers are,” Sharrow said. “A (saltie’s) captain might decide to cross a lake and try to keep moving. He would probably have trouble navigating through the rivers as long as it is this windy.”
Strong winds that blow long enough can also lower the water levels in some areas — potentially making navigation difficult or impossible — while causing flooding downwind.