You’re wrong if you think there isn’t anything to do on the North Shore during the late fall/early winter season. As the season changes and the temperature drops, Lake Superior becomes alive with the Gales of November!
Gales are winds that exceed 39MPH, an occurrence that happens usually once a week during the month of November. The differences in air pressure between low-pressure and high-pressure systems cause them. The greater the difference, the higher the wind speeds are. These winds create enormous white caps just like you’d see in the ocean. You haven’t seen Lake Superior until you’ve seen what the gales do to the lake. During the Gales of November, waves can get to, or exceed, 30 feet!
The Gales of November have produced some of the lake’s most violent storms. The Mataafa Storm of 1905 struck Lake Superior on November 27th and 28th causing mass destruction. 29 vessels were either destroyed or seriously damaged, and 36 seamen lost their lives. That storm led to the construction of the Split Rock Lighthouse near Two Harbors. The Gales were also responsible for the storm on November 10, 1975, that sank the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, the last sinking of a large freighter on Lake Superior. In 2010, the Extratropical Cyclone hit Northeastern Minnesota with winds up to 65 miles per hour.
Although no one wants to find themselves in the middle of the Lake during one of these storms, even seasoned sailors know to respect the fury of Lake Superior in November, many people head to the North Shore in hopes to view or surf (yes, surf!) the spectacular waves that these gales create. Ships also stay closer to shore during the early winter months where the waters are safer, so it’s the best time to spot ships along the North Shore.
While the Gales of November are known to put on a spectacular show, it’s wise to keep a safe distance. Enjoying from afar means you can enjoy the waves and remain dry and on solid land. Some of the best viewing for the Gales of November are Brighton Beach in Duluth, where you will usually find a dozen or so surfers, Split Rock Overlook on Highway 61 where you can enjoy seeing the waves crash against Split Rock cliffs, Black Beach in Silver Bay, and Grand Marais’ East Bay (from the Coast Guard Station parking lot). Of course, pretty much anywhere you go, the waves will be during the gales. So come on up anytime in November and experience the Gales of November for yourself.