Worst Storms of All Time - The Ice Blizzard of 1998

Ice storms can freeze entire trees, causing them to collapse under the weight.
Ice storms can freeze entire trees, causing them to collapse under the weight.


On January 4th, 1998 a stream of warm air from New Mexico moved towards the valley of the Saint Lawrence Valley. On the opposite side at around the same time, another stream of cold air was sitting in the Labrador area. These two wind systems got trapped by the Bermuda high-pressure area which in turn triggered a steady cycle of rain refreezing which in turn got dumped into the adjacent regions. In Canada instead of average precipitation, there was a heavy snowfall, as the storm moved further south towards New York where temperatures were a lot warmer it turned into heavy rainfall that caused floods.


In Canada, more than 1,000 transmission towers were brought down by the heavy mass of the ice that kept on piling for days. This led to power failure in more than four million homesteads for a duration of up to a month. As electricity is necessary for the provision of warmth during winter, many people were exposed to the elements, and approximately 25 people succumbed to hypothermia. Movement into major city centers like Montreal became impossible due to the huge blocks of ice blocking roads or falling from high buildings endangering the lives of people. Vegetation was not spared, trees were destroyed in the millions, and the maple sugar industry felt the most significant loss in Quebec after more than 5,000 maple trees had to be cut down as they could no longer be used. By the time the storm subsided the total estimate of damages was between $4 and $6 billion, and the central power plant in Quebec was severely damaged that it had to be rebuilt from the ground up.


It took the combined efforts of all security forces of Canada to get back the affected areas on their feet. 15,000 troops from 200 units of the Canadian army were deployed on January 8th to help rescue teams and the municipal workers in clearing wreckage and setting up shelters for the survivors who numbered about 100,000. Engineers from all over the country were called in to repair the power plant and set up backup generators for the farmers who needed a power back to keep their vital operations going.

Future Plans

The storm had a long-term effect on the areas it hit, and new measures were formulated to prevent any future repeat of what had transpired. The first move was the creation of the Project Ice Storm which was to monitor storms in advance to allow evacuation of the people from the path. The new structures that were set up were made sturdier than the previous ones to withstand the weight of ice. Residents were also equipped with backup power generators.


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