The Great Ice Storm!

A street in Elora after an ice storm - frozen ...
A street in Elora after the ice storm – frozen utility lines are pulled over by weight of ice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ice Storm of '98 - Ice thickness
Ice Storm of ’98 – Ice thickness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From January 4 to 10, 1998, the Great Ice Storm affected Atlantic Canada, southern Quebec, eastern Ontario, northern New York and northern New England, in addition to rain and flooding in the Appalachians.

* Damages estimated at $5-7 billion;
* About 900,000 households without power in Quebec, 100,000 in Ontario;
* Prolonged freezing rain brought down millions of trees, 120,000 km of power lines and telephone cables, 130 major transmission towers each worth $100,000 and about 30,000 wooden utility poles costing $3,000 each;
* About 100,000 people had to take refuge in shelters;
* the storm led to the largest deployment of Canadian military personnel since the Korean War, with over 15,784 Canadian Forces personnel, including 3,740 reservists deployed in Ontario (4,850) Quebec (10,550) and New Brunswick (384);
* There were 945 injuries and 35 deaths (mostly from hyperthermia).

Freezing precipitation is often described as “a line” or “spotty occurrences of”. At the peak of this great storm, the area of freezing precipitation extended from Muskoka and Kitchener in Ontario through eastern Ontario, western Quebec and the Eastern Townships to the Fundy coast of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In the United States, icing coated northern New York and parts of New England.

One of the reasons the ice storm was so unusual was that it went on for so long. For instance, Ottawa and Montreal get an average freezing precipitation on 12 to 17 days a year, and each episode generally lasts only a few hours at a time, for an average total between 45 to 65 hours. During the Ice Storm of ’98, the number of hours of freezing rain and drizzle was in excess of 80 — nearly double the normal annual total!

The total water equivalent of precipitation, comprising mostly of freezing rain and ice pellets and a bit of snow, exceeded 85 mm in Ottawa, 73 mm in Kingston, 108 mm in Cornwall and 100 mm in Montreal.

In the area south of Montreal (Monteregie), Quebec, was so affected that the triangle formed by Saint-Hyacinthe, Granby and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu was nicknamed the triangle of darkness by the English media, and triangle noire by the French media, for the lack of electricity for weeks.

Millions of residents were forced into mobile living, visiting friends and family to shower or shave and share a meal, or moving in temporarily for shelter.

The storm brutalized one of the largest populated and urbanized areas in North America, leaving more than four million people freezing in the dark, some for weeks. There is no doubt the storm directly affected more people than any previous weather event in Canadian history!

On January 7, 1998, the provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec requested aid from the Canadian Forces (CF), and Operation Recuperation began on January 8.

CF members from approximately 200 units across Canada helped provincial and municipal workers clear roads, rescue people and animals trapped by storm wreckage, evacuate the sick, shelter and feed about 100,000 people frozen out of their homes, and make sure that farmers had the generators and fuel required to keep their operation going. Military engineers and technicians worked around the clock with hydro and telephone crews to repair and replace downed transmission towers and utility poles.

In addition, CN locomotives were moved off the tracks and used to provide power to residents of Boucherville and Coteau-du-Lac, south and west of Montreal.

The loss of power also greatly affected farmers. They could not provide water or adequate ventilation to their barns full of livestock, and that led to the deaths of many animals. Many barns also collapsed under the weight of ice, killing so many animals trapped inside.

In the third week after the onset of the storm, more than 700,000 were still without electricity — 150,000 in Quebec alone, restored as late as January 28!

“It was unlucky, too. Had the storm tracked 100 km farther east or west of its main target, the disrupted effect would have been far less crippling,” reports the Weather Network.

What had taken human beings a half a century to build took Mother Nature only a matter of hours to knock down!


  1. We lived in Acton-Vale at that time, so right in the middle of it all, although Montreal was blacked out for days, too. One amazing thing about it was that there wasn’t a puff of wind. Any wind in addition to the weight of ice on branches and wires would have resulted in so much more damage.

    As it was you could stand out on the step and listen to the crashing of huge tree branches all around. There’d be a crack, then a tearing sound as the ice-coated branches were torn off the trees, then a crash as all that weight hit the ground. Repeated again and again, with the odd far-off flash of a power line going down and shorting out. A person could imagine it was the end of the world!


    • Yeah, that’s so true! And what really got me was how beautiful everything was. There was even a certain peace looking at it all. And yet, some people lost a lot … Funny how Mother Nature works, eh?


  2. It amazes me when I read blogs about other parts of the world that I learn about something that has affected so many yet I get caught up in my own world and do not realize what is happening to others. Thank you for sharing.


    • I know what you mean. With the Internet and TV, we think we know all that’s newsworthy at the end of each day, and then we read something of this magnitude! The world stage may seem smaller, but it isn’t much, is it?

      Thanks for the visit and comment … I hope you’ll keep getting something out of this blog. 🙂


  3. Yes, it was quite the storm. I was one of the luckier ones that was without power for just three days. I do remember bundling up with blankets, and seeing the military on our small street cleaning up. I won’t forget it for a while, that’s for sure!


  4. I thank you for this blog. Great charity accompanied this event. The people of Vermont came to help. Maritimers drove to Quebec and Ottawa to pick up relatives. When the time came to rebuild, HydroQuebec chose the expensive solution: very thick wires. Some people were without electricity and many without heat, for three weeks.


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