By Jacob Wheeler
“Hell hath’ no fury like a Great Lakes fall storm” — Weather historian William R. Deedler, on the Great Lakes white hurricane of November 1913.
What to make of the vicious wind storm this week that knocked trees through houses and garages, relieved the forests of their autumn leaves, and sent folks without electricity scurrying to the Leelanau Coffee Roasters and Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, for wireless Internet and food?
A lesson from Mother Nature that man, if he stands alone, is doomed? (When Glen Arbor’s power returned Tuesday evening, the town opened doors to its neighbors in Empire, which remained in the dark for another 24 hours.) Foreshadowing of another storm on Tuesday, when Americans vote in the midterm elections and — if the mainstream media has it right — will rush the kitchen, fire the chefs, dump out the giant vat of slow-cooking soup, and start over again? Or was this storm just a natural, if noisy, step in the transition from autumn to winter?
Better find your hats and gloves, folks. The Old Man may arrive early this year.
The windstorm that hit Leelanau County on Tuesday, Oct. 26, rivaled the pressure of tropical storms, according to Dave Lawrence, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Gaylord. The storm’s intensity rivaled, and may have surpassed, the winds that doomed the famed Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 in Lake Superior. In fact, “Chiclone of 2010” (named for the beating it dealt the Windy City) boasted the lowest atmospheric pressure readings ever measured anywhere in the continental United States, according to Weather Underground — making the storm more intense than the Great Blizzard of 1978, the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940, the November storm of 1998, the White Hurricane of 1913 which inspired Deedler’s above quote, and the Edmund Fitzgerald storm of 1975.
According to the Traverse City Record-Eagle, gusts on Tuesday reached 62 miles per hour in Traverse City and 72 mph in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Waves in the middle of Lake Michigan may have topped 20 feet. Nearly 100,000 Consumers Energy customers along the Lake Michigan shoreline lost power, including 2,651 here in Leelanau County, 1,052 in Benzie County and 480 in Grand Traverse County.
And through it all, Keenan May, Lindsay Simmons, and Elias Ridley went surfing at Sleeping Bear Point!
“I’ve been surfing all week,” bragged Ridley, the buff Ann Arbor native who now calls Empire home. “So while everyone I know is complaining about the cold, awful weather, I’ve been stoked out of my head … People who see us going out either wish us luck and to be safe, or exclaim that ‘I’m crazy’ … probably both, on one level or another.”
Does extreme weather turn people mad? Perhaps it’s worth considering author Joan Didion’s words about the fabled Santa Ana wind off the Pacific Ocean every fall that brings wildfires to Southern California and makes people in Los Angeles do crazy things. In Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion called this “the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows.” She tells how “the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the wind blew.” On nights of a Santa Ana wind, Didion writes, “every booze party ends in a fight” and “meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.”
We Midwesterners may not be driven to such impulses, but the storm proved murderous for the wildlife. A dead seagull and a dead duck were seen lying near each other on the beach in Leland, apparently after nosediving into the sand. Meanwhile, the Record-Eagle reported that rescue crews in nearby Northport helped a woman who was trapped in her trailer by downed power lines.
Norm Wheeler, English and astronomy teacher at The Leelanau School, knew the storm was coming. Looking out from the school’s Observatory on the beach, Wheeler saw a flat, nervous Sleeping Bear Bay Tuesday morning with the wind picking up out of the south. By the afternoon it was coming from the southwest, and the whole bay had become whitecaps and froth. Mini-waterspouts formed between Glen Arbor and North Manitou Island, even as the sun began to shine. “When the sun shines and there’s that much spray above the water, you get sundogs, or rainbow patches at right angles from sun. I saw a sundog out toward Sleeping Bear Point and a sundog toward North Manitou.” By Tuesday evening the wind was howling and rocking the Observatory.
Both Glen Arbor and Empire lost electricity in the afternoon, and so many people gathered for dinner at Art’s, which has a generator, that there was half-hour wait to be seated. At 6 p.m. on Tuesday the power returned in Glen Arbor, and the Western Avenue Grill opened across the street — a relief to the hungry crowd.
In Frankfort, crowds gathered Tuesday and Wednesday to watch giant wind-whipped waves smash into the lighthouses on the town’s piers. In nearby Elberta, a house reportedly crumbled in two. Benzie County lost power, but Maggie Lonero’s lights stayed on because she has solar power (there must be a lesson there).
Check out this video by Ken Scott of the wind and waves bashing into the Frankfort pier:
In Traverse City, Cheyenne Dutcher was relieved that the Tall Ship Manitou had been moved to its winter dock the day before the storm hit. “She is now crushing the dock, but there’s nothing I can do,” lamented Dutcher, one of the Tall Ship’s captains. “At least she won’t go anywhere.” Trees and branches lay strewn over photographer John Robert Williams’ yard. He estimated he’d need an entire day just to clear the yard. Meanwhile, high school Spanish teacher Andy Baumann sat on his couch, reading a Bill Bryson book, by firelight.
Here in Glen Arbor, a tree busted out webpage designer Molly Melin’s window while she was on the couch reading to her daughter, Ada. Melin can tell the story with varying degrees of drama. Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast innkeepers Jeff and Katie Rabidoux worried about a big dead tree that stood dangerously close to their home, but the storm miraculously dropped it down safer than any chainsaw could have — parallel to the house and facing the driveway. The Budingers weren’t so lucky. Dick and Gay heard something hit their garage the other night. They went outside and saw two holes in the roof, and an opening in the tree canopy with a view clear to the sky. Over at Glen Lake School, fourth grade teacher Cynthia Hollenbeck’s students were distracted, looking wild-eyed out the window at every gust of wind, she said, “instead of concentrating on my fascinating tricks to learn their times-tables.”
On Tuesday night a fire truck parked at the Narrow’s Deli south of the Glen Lakes indicated that the stretch of M-22 south of Little Glen Lake was closed. A tree had fallen and taken down power lines. An electricity poll near the Manor on Glen Lake was reportedly being replaced as well.
The storm knocked out power at The Leelanau School on Tuesday, and it wasn’t restored until Thursday afternoon. As they may have done in the olden days, the boarding school’s students took buckets of water from the Crystal River to flush their toilets Tuesday night. They used porta-potties Wednesday and Thursday. In the evenings they studied in the dining hall under halogen light bulbs that were hooked up to a generator. Leelanau School President Matt Ralston came to the Leelanau Coffee Roasters — which was swarming with laptop-toters — to email parents of students and let them know to communicate via cellular phone. Ironically, Glen Arbor’s cell tower wasn’t functioning either Tuesday.
Those in Empire without power stayed with friends or family in Glen Arbor whose electricity returned Tuesday evening: Dan and Anne Shoup brought their kids to stay with “Uncle Mike” Buhler, co-owner of the Leelanau Coffee Roasters and co-editor of the Glen Arbor Sun; Colleen Macaddino hosted her daughter Kelly and grandkids. Meanwhile, Erik Peterson borrowed his landlord’s chainsaw early Wednesday morning so that he could remove a tree that had fallen on Echo Valley Road and get to work.
On his drive home from Traverse City late Wednesday night, Norm Wheeler saw 14 Consumers Power bucket trucks driving east on M-72 after restoring power here in the county. They were back on Thursday, parked by the dozen behind Boone Docks in Glen Arbor.
The power returned to Empire at 9 p.m. on Wednesday night. Mimi Wheeler had lost two days of production at Grocers Daughter Chocolate, and she had plenty of orders to fill. So her work day began at 10 p.m. and lasted until 3:30 a.m. Meanwhile, once the storm was over, Norm assessed that the forests had almost completely lost their leaves, except for some oak trees down by the lakeshore. Winter, it seemed, was now imminent.
But every great storm brings a time for reflection. Writer Anne-Marie Oomen lost her father this summer, and this week she heard John’s footsteps in the forest outside of Empire. Here are her words:
“This is the preamble for the storm: On Sunday I woke to find the understory had turned golden, a phenomenon I love more than the big treetop show for both subtlety and metaphor. An understory is often the golden story, don’t you think? The canopy had fallen, and the glow from the ground was dappled with these last bright snips. The low trees were still freckled with light, but close to the earth. It was warm and humid and still that day, a sure sign the weather would change. But Sunday, those leaves were damp, so rather than the crackling chorus, the sounds were muted. I remembered then: these were my father’s favorite autumn days; these days of golden understory when he could walk in the woods without alerting the creatures. In his last years, he rarely hunted but went out anyway into that singular light, to walk and watch and wait in the understory. Perhaps he became part of the understory.
For the next two days, as the storm approached from the Midwest, I heard his footsteps in our woods, the almost sound on wet leaves. Then Tuesday, the bottom dropped out of the barometer, and then the wind drowned out everything but its own sound, and then the power gone and the nights dark with howling. Now even the golden understory is gone. I loved the preamble to the storm, and then the storm itself — for the metaphor of course.”