White squall

White squall

A white squall is a sudden and violent windstorm phenomenon at sea which is not accompanied by the black clouds generally characteristic of a squall. The name refers to the white-capped waves and broken water, its meager warning to any unlucky seaman caught in its path. White squalls are rare at sea, but common on the Great Lakes of North America.

A white squall is the culprit of many sea stories and blamed for quite a few tragedies. It is described as a sudden increase in wind velocity in tropical and sub-tropical waters, and lacks the usual dark, ominous squall clouds. The white squall, still thought by some to be myth, may be a microburst.

Historical Incidents

  • The Pride of Baltimore, a modern schooner, was reportedly struck by a white squall May 14, 1986. The 121-ton vessel sank about north of Puerto Rico, casting the surviving crew members adrift for five days. The Toro, a Norwegian freighter picked them up at 2:30 a.m. May 19, 1986. An eyewitness of the account described it as follows:

"A tremendous whistling sound suddenly roared through the rigging and a wall of wind hit us in the back. The Pride heeled over in a matter of seconds. The wind pushed a high wall of water into the starboard side. She sank in minutes."

  • A white squall was allegedly behind the sinking of the schooner Albatross on May 2, 1961. The film White Squall tells the story behind the event.
  • A white squall is also believed to have sunk the schooner Hunter Savidge in Lake Huron in 1899.
  • Southern Ontario is famous for one frequently recurring white squall nicknamed the "Filteau", its long lanky lightning strikes have terrified tourists for decades.
  • Stan Rogers wrote the song "White Squall" about the white squalls of the Great Lakes.

See also


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