Chicago Storm May Beat Gale That Doomed Freighter

A storm stronger than the one that sank the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 is expected to slash across the Midwest tomorrow, snarling Chicago travel and whipping waves as high as 30 feet across Lake Michigan.

A line of severe thunderstorms driving wind gusts of 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour will arrive before 10 a.m., said Andrew Krein, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Romeoville, Illinois.

“The morning commute is going to be really messy,” Krein said. “Visibility is going to be almost nothing at least for a short time.”

The storm will be a cyclone, with projected central pressure, a measure of its strength, forecast to be 28.35 inches. That would make it the second most severe system to strike the Great Lakes, according to the weather service.

The Edmund Fitzgerald sank on Nov. 10, 1975, in Lake Superior about 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan, with a crew of 29, according to the Great Lakes Ship Wreck Museum’s website. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts in 1976.

The Edmund Fitzgerald storm had a central pressure of 28.95 inches. The strongest storm recorded in the lakes was the “Great Ohio Blizzard” of January 1978, which had a central pressure of 28.05 inches.

Hurricane Comparison

In comparison, when Hurricane Earl reached Category 3 strength in the Atlantic at the end of August, its central pressure was recorded at 28.20 inches.

Great Lakes cyclones aren’t like hurricanes, however, Krein said. The storms gather their energy from the Jet Stream and the upper atmosphere, while hurricanes draw their power from warm ocean waters and have the strongest winds wound tightly around the core.

Krein said the storm also isn’t likely to produce a lot of rain. Aside from the heavy thunderstorms that arrive with the first blast of wind, the weather will be drier and breaks may appear in the clouds.

The blue sky shouldn’t deceive anyone, he said. The storm will last at least two days and will cause a problem for large trucks and possibly trains, as well as ships on Lake Michigan.

United Continental Holdings Inc. and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, which have hubs at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, are both watching weather forecasts and haven’t yet determined whether they will need to cancel any flights tomorrow, spokeswomen for the carriers said.

In advance of the storm, the weather service has issued a high wind watch from South Dakota to Ohio. A watch means sustained winds of as much as 40 mph are possible. In addition, a high wind warning, meaning gusts of 75 mph are possible, has been issued for parts of northern Illinois and Wisconsin, according to the weather service.

A storm warning has been issued for Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

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