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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 11/11/2009

Veterans Day often signals stormy weather

By Don Lipman

* Cloudy, cool, breezy and damp: Full Forecast | Photo contest *

Snow blankets a Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11, 1987 in Washington, D.C. Courtesy

Depending on whether you think of the start of winter as Dec. 1 (meteorological winter) or Dec. 21 (astronomical winter), the winter season is still 3-6 weeks away as of November 11. Nevertheless, the period around Veterans Day in the past has been associated with some wild and wooly weather here and elsewhere, but particularly in the Great Lakes region.

Pre-Weather Bureau records tell of a terrible storm on Nov. 10, 1835 which "stripped the lower Lakes of all sails." Much later, during this century, Nov. 11, 1911 was long remembered by Midwest farmers for a cold wave which struck with such ferocity that it was described "as one of the most remarkable cold waves in the history of the U.S. Weather Bureau." (Of course the Weather Bureau, now the National Weather Service, had only been in existence about 40 years at the time.)

Keep reading for more Veterans Day weather memories, including some from the D.C. metro region...

Just two years later, in 1913, another severe tempest known as the "Freshwater Fury Storm" struck the Great Lakes area on Nov. 10. It would be another 27 years, however, before the granddaddy of all Great Lakes storms would hit.

Known as the Armistice Day Storm of 1940, it dealt a mighty blow to the upper Great Lakes states. This storm was one of the worst blizzards of any month in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and upper Michigan and was also one of the deadliest for November, leaving over 70 dead on storm-tossed Lake Michigan alone.

During the next 50 years, history repeated itself several more times in the vicinity of the Great Lakes, with at least three more severe storms (1975, 1977, and 1982) striking on or around Veterans Day. Of these, it was the 1975 storm that was to become a folk legend. At its peak, on the evening of Nov. 10 with 60+ mph winds ravaging eastern Lake Superior, the 729-foot ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald went down with a crew of 29. Although bodies were never found, a diving expedition was successful in locating the wreckage during the late 1980s.

Since the Edmund Fitzgerald was found in two halves, some experts believe it literally broke in two as if its bow and stern were suspended by two successive super waves. Others believe the ship capsized and broke in half upon hitting bottom. Whatever the cause, the tragedy captured the imagination of folk singer Gordon Lightfoot, who in 1976 wrote a ballad entitled "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." It was a popular folk tune which transformed this maritime disaster into one of the most celebrated shipwrecks of the 20th century.

Although to my knowledge, events caused by Veterans Day weather in the Washington area have never inspired any songwriters, we have had our meteorological extremes. These are the numbers for today, Nov. 11 (at Reagan National Airport):

Highest temp: 78° (1949)
Lowest temp: 26° (1973, and other years)
Lowest high temp: 35° (1987)
Highest low temp: 58° (1970)
Avg. max: 59°
Avg. low: 41°
Avg. precip: 0.10 in.
Maximum precip: 1.46 in. (1987)

The lowest high temperature (above) provides a clue to when the biggest meteorological "bomb" in D.C.'s Nov. 11 weather history occurred. It was, of course, the surprise Veterans Day snowstorm of 1987, which dumped up to 16 inches of snow on the southeastern portion of the D.C. area, although parts of the region escaped with less than six inches.

Officially, the D.C. measurement was 11.5 inches, which broke many November snow records: greatest November storm total; greatest amount of November snow in 24 hours; greatest amount of snow for the date (obviously); and greatest amount of total November snowfall. The storm, which arrived just two days after a balmy 72 degrees had been recorded, was of the type that literally exploded right over us. Understandably, it was poorly forecast (less than an inch of snow was predicted the night before) and was later analyzed to the nth degree by the National Weather Service. Hopefully, there is now a better understanding of the dynamic forces that helped to suddenly spawn such an unusual storm.

With the remnants of once Hurricane Ida socking us in with clouds, gusty breezes, and showers today, Veterans Day is living up to its stormy reputation...

By Don Lipman  | November 11, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Lipman, Local Climate  
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My Dad and Grandpa lived through and always used to talk about the great Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940. Over twenty duck hunters on the Upper Mississippi were frozen to death in their duck blinds and on the river that day. The temperature dropped from the sixties early Nov. 11 to below zero by the morning of the 12th. Snow accumulations ran from 15 to 26 inches, and some areas transitioned from rain to freezing rain to snow over the course of the storm.

The event of 1987 here was almost a reincarnation of the earlier storm in the Midwest, though temperature drops were not quite so dramatic. Snow, accompanied at first by thunder & lightning started here in Arlington about noon and continued for about six hours. We had ten inches or more.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | November 11, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

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