Snapshot: Ice Storm ’98

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With the most recent 2013 ice storm that shut down parts of southern Ontario fresh in our memory, we thought it might be a good time to reflect on the much bigger and more devastating ice storm of 1998, sometimes called the “Great Ice Storm”, that affected 4 million people across eastern Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and parts of New York state and Maine.

In January of 1998 a cold front moved north from the Appalachian Mountains and met a lower warm front that was lazing about over the Ottawa Valley. The cold front had brought snow but, as the snow passed through the warmer air below it turned into super-cooled water droplets which rained down. Because the air at ground level was still freezing temperature, these freakish water droplets froze almost instantly upon contact and encased a hundred thousand square kilometers in ice!

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The effects of an ice storm: instant icing on contact.

The effects of an ice storm: instant icing on contact.

The effects of this great ice storm were devastating. Hydro pylons toppled; entire forests collapsed under the weight of ice. Trees fell through house roofs already straining under hundreds of pounds of weight. Bridges buckled and power lines came down resulting in one of the largest blackouts in North American history. An estimated 4 million people across the effected regions lost power. Ottawa and Montreal were some of the hardest-hit metropolitan areas and the largest deployment of Canadian forces since the Korean War was undertaken in an effort to relieve beleaguered communities.

It is estimated that up to $8 billion in damage was caused by this storm, but the damage to the forests of the area was immeasurable. The worst tragedy was the deaths of 35 people the storm caused, either due to collapsing trees or as an indirect result of the loss of power.

The Red Cross was mobilized across the effected regions and local volunteers rushed to fill parish halls and food banks and community centers with food and blankets for the millions of people the storm chased out of their homes.

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Ice Storm damage in Montreal: Canada's second largest metropolis was knocked out in one day.

Ice Storm damage in Montreal: Canada’s second largest metropolis was knocked out in one day.

Ottawa, with a million people, was without power for several weeks. The military brought in diesel train engines to keep the government core powered.

Ottawa, with a million people, was without power for several weeks. The military brought in diesel train engines to keep the government core powered.

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16,000 Canadian forces personnel were deployed to help get the power on and get people to safe shelters.

16,000 Canadian forces personnel were deployed to help get the power on and get people to safe shelters.

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Power lines were down for thousands of kilometers.

Power lines were down for thousands of kilometers.

Forests across the area were devastated, most notably in Ontario and in Maine.

Forests across the area were devastated, most notably in Ontario and in Maine.

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The military, Red Cross and volunteers set up emergency shelters in hundreds of communities across the affected region.

The military, Red Cross and volunteers set up emergency shelters in hundreds of communities across the affected region.

A destroyed forest in eastern Ontario.

A destroyed forest in eastern Ontario.

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1998 was also one of the largest deployment of hydro/power workers in North American history. US and Canadian workers flew in from all parts of the continent to help get the power up and running.

1998 was also one of the largest deployment of hydro/power workers in North American history. US and Canadian workers flew in from all parts of the continent to help get the power up and running.

Hydro pylons crumpled under the weight of ice.

Hydro pylons crumpled under the weight of ice.

The effects of the ice storm can still be seen today, where large swathes of forests were destroyed.

The effects of the ice storm can still be seen today, where large swathes of forests were destroyed.

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