‘November Witch’ storm to bring high winds to Great Lakes, Plains, Midwest


On par with past storms, known locally as the “witches of November” and virtually on the exact date of the storm that sunk the iron ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald 40 years ago, a powerful low-pressure system is intensifying and will spread a swath of high winds through the Plains, Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley through Friday.

Computer models show that the low may have a barometric pressure reading of around 984 millibars, or 29.06 inches of mercury, Thursday morning.  

This means the low will be strong. Due to the pressure difference between that intense low and a zone of high pressure over the Northwest, strong and potentially damaging winds are expected.

High wind watches and warnings have already been issued by the National Weather Service from New Mexico and West Texas to Upstate New York. Sustained winds topping 35 mph and gusts up to 60 mph are possible in the warned areas.

These winds may lead to a variety of impacts:

  • Blizzard conditions on parts of the High Plains, when combined with snow, could lead to near-zero visibility and road closures.
  • Areas of blowing dust on the Plains may also reduce visibility.
  • Strong crosswinds may overturn high-profile vehicles (tractor trailers).
  • Downed trees or tree limbs could lead to some power outages.
  • Enhanced wildfire danger for the southern High Plains in areas that see neither rain nor snow.
  • Large waves on the Great Lakes could result in some coastal flooding, including beach and dune erosion on downwind lakeshores.
  • Some flight delays are possible due to the winds, particularly at Chicago-O’Hare and Denver International Airports.

Here is a timeline of when and where the strongest winds are expected.


Strong north winds will persist much of the day in the central High Plains of Nebraska, southeast Wyoming, eastern Colorado and northwest Kansas. Blizzard conditions are possible in open areas.

Gusts to 50 mph or higher are possible in these areas, which, when combined with falling wet snow, may lead to downed tree limbs and power outages.

Strong winds will expand eastward later in the day into eastern South Dakota, southwest Minnesota, the rest of Nebraska, Kansas and western Missouri.

In the southern Plains, west-southwest winds gusting up to around 50 mph or higher may produce areas of blowing dust Wednesday afternoon from eastern New Mexico and West Texas into Oklahoma, north Texas.

In those same areas, the winds will combine with a lack of precipitation to create conditions favorable for the rapid spread of wildfires if any should start. Winds in these areas should die down near or just after sunset.

(FORECAST: Denver | Dodge City, Kansas | Okla. City)


Strong west winds will howl through much of the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, upper and middle Mississippi Valley, Missouri Valley and northern Plains.

The strongest winds will occur through the afternoon in these areas, with some gusts up to 60 mph possible.

While wind speeds may die down a tad Thursday night, some gusts over 50 mph may persist particularly over and downwind of the southern Great Lakes.

(FORECAST: Mpls./St. Paul | Chicago | Detroit | Cleveland)

Incidentally, those cold winds will combine with the cooling and lift provided by a vigorous upper-level low-pressure system to change precipitation to wet snow in northeast Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan late Thursday and Thursday night.


The surface low-pressure center will be slow to decay over eastern Canada or northern New England, so strong winds are likely to linger in some areas Friday.

Much of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley will continue to see occasional gusts at least to 45 mph, particularly Friday afternoon.

The strongest winds again will be over the Great Lakes themselves, particularly over Lakes Erie and Ontario, as well as downwind lakeshores, where some lakeshore flooding is possible.

(FORECAST: Detroit | Cleveland | Buffalo)

Wind gusts to 50 mph are also possible over the highest terrain of the Appalachians and Adirondacks.

A few gusts over 40 mph are possible at times in parts of the Northeast I-95 corridor, from southern Maine to the Nation’s Capital.

Lake-enhanced snow and rain will persist in the Great Lakes, with several more inches of wet snow accumulations likely in the Lake Superior snowbelt. The combination of wind-driven wet snow accumulating on trees and powerlines may lead to downed limbs and power outages in these areas.

Past “Witches of November”

Early November – and late October, for that matter – has a long, notorious history of intense Midwest windstorms that have proven deadly for Great Lakes shipping.

Weather Underground historian Christopher Burt discussed this in a 2010 blog written after another such storm – the “Octobomb”– raked through the Midwest Oct. 25-27, 2010, and set all-time low pressure records in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Known locally as the “Witches of November” and mentioned in singer Gordon Lightfoot’s iconic “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” about the 1975 storm responsible for sinking the huge iron-ore ship in Lake Superior, these Great Lakes storms don’t always produce much snow, but their fierce winds are a signature feature.

This storm’s minimum low pressure near the Great Lakes may be comparable to the Edmund Fitzgerald 1975 storm, but its pressure gradient, which ultimately drives wind speeds, is expected to be less, according to winter weather expert Tom Niziolof The Weather Channel.

Another such storm 17 years ago was actually stronger than the 1975 Edmund Fitzgerald storm, and produced wind gusts over 70 mph in some areas of the Great Lakes.

When there is snow accompanying these storms, the resulting blizzard can be crippling.

For example, one of Minnesota’s most notorious blizzards took place on Armistice Day 1940, where winds whipped snow drifts up to 20 feet deep and a number of ships were sunk on Lake Michigan. The blizzard killed 154, according to Burt. Sixty-six sailors were killed in the Lake Michigan ship sinkings.


3 thoughts on “‘November Witch’ storm to bring high winds to Great Lakes, Plains, Midwest

  1. Forecast for here in ND is 60 mph winds tonight through tomorrow sometime…….of course they sprayed the hell out of us the other day….when I first moved here we had one heck of a wind storm that lasted 2 days but peaked during the first night …….we guessed the sustained winds were 70 with gust up to who the hell knows…no sleep that night and we lost many of the shingles from the roof…..haha when I check the forecast for my area it will usually say breezy or windy ……I have learned that breezy means windspeed of about 40-45 and windy is above that haha…..if we get a bit of snow with that 60 mph wind there will be just about zero visibility ……….

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