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Ice

Ice Storm 1998 - January 5-10, 1998

People called it the "storm of the century", but the ice storm of 1998 started out, on January 5, 1998, as little more than a cold drizzle. The people of Ontario and Quebec had no idea of the destruction the next five days would bring.

Several factors are used to measure how severe an ice storm is, including how much ice builds up during the storm, how long it lasts and how great an area it affects. The ice storm of 1998 set records in all these categories.

The ice build-up was nearly twice as thick as any previous storm on record. During the storm, Ottawa and Montréal experienced over 80 hours of precipitation -- nearly double the cities' normal totals for an entire year. The area affected by the storm was enormous, extending from eastern Ontario, across Quebec, to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It even affected northern New York and parts of New England.

Untitled cartoon by Dale Cummings showing Jean Chretien trying to fix a crumpled hydro tower from the ice storm

Source

Untitled cartoon by Dale Cummings showing Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien trying to fix a crumpled hydro tower from the ice storm

The storm was worst, however, in eastern Ontario and southern Quebec, where a state of emergency was declared. The weight of the ice bent and snapped millions of trees and brought down 120,000 kilometres of power lines and telephone cables, 130 transmission towers and 30,000 wooden utility poles. In the space of a few days, the storm destroyed an electrical system that had taken decades to build.

Power was lost to 900,000 households in Quebec and another 100,000 in Ontario. About 100,000 people were forced to leave their homes and take refuge in temporary shelters. Millions more had to rely on friends and family to keep out of the cold.

Not everyone was lucky enough to make it to a shelter or get help, though; and some people refused to leave their homes, even as the temperatures dropped. At least 25 people died during the storm, and in its aftermath, most from hypothermia. Others died from carbon monoxide poisoning as they tried to keep warm using camp stoves or barbecues.

All told, the storm left an estimated $2 billion in damage in its wake. Today, forests, communities and families throughout Ontario and Quebec are still recovering from the ice storm's impact.