The Mataafa storm was one of the worst in Great Lakes history

The Mataafa storm was one of the worst in Great Lakes history

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.


On Nov. 28, 1905, the SS Mataafa was sailing on Lake Superior when it ran into what would be its demise, the Witch of November.

The Witch of November is a term used to describe the hurricane-like winds that roar across the Great Lakes during the fall. The annual events are created when the cold Arctic air from the north-northwest and warm Gulf air from the south interact.

The "witches" were brewing up one of the worst storms to ever hit the Great Lakes. The SS Mataafa didn't have a chance against the conditions, and to this day, the weather event is dubbed “The Mataafa Storm of 1905."

This is how it all went down.

The SS Mataafa left Duluth, Minn., on Nov. 27 at 5 p.m. It didn't take long for the winds to reach 71 km/h.

The battered remains of Mataafa
The battered remains of Mataafa

The battered remains of Mataafa.

The ship was towing a barge named James Nasmyth. As Mataafa approached the Duluth Ship Canal, it was clear that the ship and the barge were not going to make it through, so under Capt. R. F. Humble's orders, James Nasmyth was cut loose.

On Nov. 28, the storm really started to pick up, with winds reaching gusts of 109 km/h. Capt. Humble (retrospectively ironic names are almost never welcomed) finally resigned to the fact that the ship would have to return to Duluth.

Unfortunately, the witches were going to win this one.

The waters thrashed the SS Mataafa until it was grounded in shallow water near the north pier. The ship then broke in two.

There were 12 men in the aft of the ship that became submerged in water. Three men were able to make their way out and nine of them died on board.

There were another 15 crew members in the fore half of the ship who were able to get rescued on the morning of the 29th.

Crew saving survivors of Mataafa
Crew saving survivors of Mataafa

A life-saving crew faces still-raging waters on Nov. 29, 1905, to rescue Mataafa survivors.

To hear more about the Witch of November and “The Mataafa Storm of 1905," listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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Thumbnail courtesy: Pixabay