January 4, 1998: Canada’s worse ice storm begins, eventually involving parts of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New York, and Maine. The storm began on this date and finally dissipated on January 10. Freezing rain is common in Eastern Canada and New England. Cold air from the East and North meets warm air from the South, typically rolling up the Mississippi River Valley. In 1998, there was a strong El Niño effect in the Western US. The jet stream patterns coalesced to create the perfect storm in the East.
Freezing rain began to fall in Montreal and eventually became the worst storm in Canadian history. The ice coated everything and the weight brought down power lines and pylons, often in a domino effect. Trees collapsed under the weight with as many as 80% of trees in some areas damaged by the ice. The storm raged for days, expanding the region of ice-encased cars and buildings. The temperatures remained frigid and with power lines down, over one million households or an estimated 4 million people were without electricity. Ice covered streets made it difficult to move even for fire and police called out on rescue missions.
Up to five inches of freezing rain fell. Normal storms lay down about one to one-and-a-half inches of ice. About 1,000 steel electrical pylons and 35,000 wooden utility poles were felled by the storm. Even after the storm finally abated, power was not immediately restored. In Quebec alone, 150,000 people were still without power on January 28. The cost of the storm across Canada and the US has been listed as $4-6 billion US dollars.
The storm left 35 people dead and 945 others injured. Most of the deaths were in Canada. In New York, there was not only ice, but rivers were flooded as well. The response teams were impeded by the intensity of the storm as well as by the days-long nature of the event. The Canadian Red Cross deployed 3,300 volunteers to 450 shelters. They supplied 60,000 cots, 50,000 blankets, and 16,000 hygiene kits. They served ≈100,000 meals daily. Their preparations helped to save lives. They learned even better ways to serve in such disasters by studying their effectiveness during this crisis.
The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Lightnings, that show the vast and foamy deep, The rending thunders, as they onward roll, The loud winds, that o’er the billows sweep– Shake the firm nerve, appall the bravest soul! – Mrs. Ann Ward Radcliffe
The storm is master. Man, as a ball, is tossed twixt winds and billows. – Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller
I only drink fortified wines during bad weather. Snowstorm, hurricane, tornado–I’m not particular, as long as it’s bad. After all, any storm for a Port. – Paul S. Winalski
Also on this day: