CLEVELAND - The Great White Hurricane of November 1913 began as two separate weather systems. On Nov. 7 & 8, 1913, a weak Alberta Clipper like system was shifting east thru the Great Lakes dragging colder air with it. At the same time, another small low pressure system tracked east across the southern United States and began shifting north along the Appalachian Mountains. This low was pulling warm, moisture-laden air north with it. Strong southwest winds ramped up in advance of the low pressure system while a strong northwest wind developed behind it.
On the morning of Nov. 9, both low pressure systems merged. The southern system rapidly intensified over Virginia as arctic air was pulled into the storm.. The central pressure dropped to 29.10 inches.
As the much colder air fed into the system, the storm began shifting to the north-northwest toward that cold air supply. The result was becoming a meteorological "bomb," a storm of explosive intensity that kept growing and feeding on the moisture from the Atlantic and mixing with the Arctic cold across the Great Lakes. This became the greatest storm to ever impact northern Ohio and the Great Lakes region.
Sunday, Nov. 9, 1913...that morning started out cold. Temperatures were in the 30s across northern Ohio and would continue to fall throughout the day. The precipitation would start as freezing rain, effectively coating phone and power lines with a thick coating of ice. By mid-afternoon, temperatures had fallen into the 20s and heavy snow began to fall. Wind speeds increased as well, blowing steadily at 40 to 60 miles per hour.
And things would only get worse. This caused many ice-coated telephone poles, trees and power lines to come tumbling down. At 4:40 p.m. Sunday, The Cleveland Weather Bureau recorded a one-minute average wind speed of 79 mph. This resulted in a near complete lack of communication for the entire region during the height of the storm.
By evening, the storm was a monster, packing hurricane force winds as it moved over Erie, Pennsylvania, on its way northwest where it would settle over London Ontario for the next 16 hours. With the center of the storm so close, northern Ohio felt the full fury. From Nov. 9-10, 1913, our region experienced a full 16 hours of tropical storm and hurricane-force winds.
Precipitation fell across northern Ohio for a whopping 50 hours during the storm. The heaviest snow fell from Sunday afternoon through Monday afternoon. Cleveland recorded its highest 24-hour snowfall total ever of just over 17 inches on Nov. 10, 1913.
Storm totals for downtown measured a full 22-inches by early morning Nov. 11. Across northern and eastern Ohio, between 10 & 20 inches of snow accumulated during those two days. Winds whipped the snow into street choking drifts.
According to Tom Schmidlin, author of the book "Thunder in the Heartland," snows of nearly two feet blanketed Cuyahoga, Medina, Summit, Portage, & Coshocton counties. The cities of Cleveland, Youngstown, Steubenville, Medina & Akron were snowed in for days. Many buildings collapsed under the weight of the snow.
One man was killed when a shed collapsed on top of him. Many larger ships docked in and around Clevelaqnd Harbor were ripped from their moorings by hurricane-force winds and beached along the Lake Erie Shore. Shortages of food and milk were reported throughout the region. Damage estimates in the Cleveland area alone translate to about $82 million in today's numbers.
The Head of the Cleveland Weather Bureau at the time, William Alexander wrote shortly after the storm:
"Take it all in all—the depth of the snowfall, the tremendous wind, the amount of damage done and the total unpreparedness of the people—I think it is safe to say that the present storm is the worst experienced in Cleveland during the whole 43 years the Weather Bureau has been established in the city."