Another First: Tropical Cyclone Passes over Lake Superior

June 11, 2020

This satellite image obtained from NOAA/RAMMB, shows Tropical Storm Cristobal as it moves inland over the southern part of the US at 12:10:17 UTC on June 8, 2020. - Cristobal weakened to a tropical depression on June 8, 2020 as heavy rain and coastal flooding hit the southern states of Louisiana and Florida, the US National Hurricane Center said.The third named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was packing maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour when it hit the southeast coast of Louisiana on Sunday. But Cristobal's wind speeds have since slowed to around 35 mph as it moves further inland. The center downgraded it to a tropical depression.

We’re seeing a lot of firsts this year. Lucky us.

Detroit Free Press:

A tropical cyclone has crossed over Lake Superior for the first time ever.

Tropical Depression Cristobal, which brought flooding and tornadoes to the Gulf Coast, is now making its way over the Midwest. According to the National Weather Service, it predicted Cristobal would be making its way over Lake Superior by 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Waves in the Upper Peninsula are also set to be high from the tropical storm, according to the weather service. Waves are expected to build from 5-6 feet high along the north end of the bay of the Green Bay area. The weather service also reported that along the Garden Peninsula, and east of it, waves could reach 10 feet. 


This has been the year of murder hornets, massive locust invasions on two continents, and a sudden start to Atlantic hurricane season, among other oddities (not to mention the deadly pandemic). So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Lake Superior is set to see its first post-tropical cyclone ever recorded, and yet here we are.

Tropical Depression Cristobal is currently churning over the Midwest after bringing torrential rain and storm surge to the Gulf Coast. It’s in the process of becoming subtropical but is expected to maintain its swirling characteristics and make landfall on Lake Superior (or is it lakefall?). While the lake is no stranger to massive storms and powerful gales, it’s never experienced one like Cristobal.

The National Hurricane Center stopped issuing forecasts for Cristobal early on Tuesday morning, and it issued its final forecast map on Monday. But that map showed the storm heading in a very weird direction.

But if it continues to spin as cyclones do and maintains its current trajectory, Cristobal would be the first tropical or post-tropical cyclone to make landfall on Lake Superior on records that go back to the mid-1800s. The storm is actually forecast to strengthen after that and could make yet another landfall on Hudson Bay in Canada (bayfall?), something that’s happened only one other time, in 1954, when the post-tropical storm version of Hurricane Hazel reached the bay. 

The weirdness is the biggest story of Cristobal, though the impacts on the Great Lakes are also nothing to scoff at. The National Weather Service has issued a gale warning for Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, calling for winds of up to 46 mph, a shade below the 50 mph winds it brought to the coast of Louisiana when it made landfall on Monday. It could also whip up 10-foot waves on the lakes and even kick up a few tornadoes in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys.

The Great Lakes have seen their fair share of intense storms, though fall is generally when they form and come out of the west. The contrast of cold Arctic air and warm Gulf of Mexico can drive their formation in shadow of the Rockies before they swing over the lakes and intensify by feeding on relatively warm waters, according the National Weather Service. Intense gales have stirred up massive waves and even sunk large ships, including the the Edmund Fitzgerald in November 1975 that’s been immortalized in a Canadian folk song by Gordon Lightfoot.

All this makes Cristobal a continued meteorological oddity of the highest order. It’s the earliest third named storm ever recorded in the Atlantic and came to the basin via the Pacific, where it was Tropical Storm Amanda, the first named storm of the season in that basin. Cristobal follows Arthur and Bertha, two tropical storms that formed before the season even officially began on June 1. Hurricane season is forecast to be an active one and run until November 30, so there’s unfortunately still plenty of time to set more weird milestones.

One Response to “Another First: Tropical Cyclone Passes over Lake Superior”

  1. tildeb Says:

    Pretty weird to go from Lake Superior to make landfall at Hudson’s Bay. One would have to cross a wee bit of 500+ Km of land to get there. Just sayin…

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