I'll pipe in since I'm one of the biased ones Chad probably is talking about.
I can't speak from facts addressable on the internet
, only from experience.
First, I do think the weather
on the Great Lakes in the winter is some really REALLY scary stuff. No doubt about it. I'd also say the weather at the same latitude in the North Atlantic is similar, or even much worse due to prevailing Westerlies and the amount of fetch between Nova Scotia
and say... England
Both areas experience the same storms, since these storms move West to East across the USA and Canada
Some trends that support the high number of vessels lost in the Great Lakes might be:
1) There is a significant amount of commercial
traffic going on at all times in a small area of water
2) Some may underestimate the Great Lakes in the winter
I spent all my years sailing in the North Atlantic and Caribbean
. I spent a few weeks in the Great Lakes a year ago last August. While underway, we experienced some storms and a freak 50-60mph wind
storm (According to NOAA).
In any case, that type of wind in an open ocean would have been quite uncomfortable. In our case, it was not a big deal as the seas don't really build in the Lakes to the extent they do in open ocean, given the same weather conditions. There is always some piece of land within a reasonable distance creating less fetch. Of course, this applies to summer thunderstorms and the like, not to the howling winter weather that has probably claimed more ships.
One thing though... the place is shallow! Maybe some of the ships grounded and then sunk? I know the wind can really move water around, so that it piles up on one shore and leaves another shore very shoal. Could be a factor?
I won't anger the "Lake Gods" by saying the Great Lakes are nothing, but they certainly aren't as violent as the open sea/ocean on the same day under the same conditions. The wave action gets more rough when you combine the breakers with the swells.