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Canadian Ice Storm in 1998

One of the Worst Weather Events in Canadian History

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Ice storm aftermath
Oksana Struk/Photodisc/Getty Images

Updated: 12/23/2013

About the Ice Storm of 1998

For six days in January 1998, freezing rain coated Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick with 7-11 cm (3-4 in) of ice. Trees and hydro wires fell and utility poles and transmission towers came down causing massive power outages, some for as long as a month. It was the most expensive natural disaster in Canada. According to Environment Canada, the ice storm of 1998 directly affected more people than any other previous weather event in Canadian history.

Date

January 5-10, 1998

Location

Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, Canada

Size of the Ice Storm of 1998

  • The water equivalent of freezing rain, ice pellets and a little snow was double previous major ice storms.

  • The area covered was massive, extending from Kitchener, Ontario through Quebec to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and also covering parts of New York and New England.

  • Most freezing rain lasts for a few hours. In the ice storm of 1998, there were more than 80 hours of freezing rain, nearly double the annual average.,

Casualties and Damage from the Ice Storm of 1998

  • 28 people died, many from hypothermia.

  • 945 people were injured.

  • Over 4 million people in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick lost power.

  • About 600,000 people had to leave their homes.

  • 130 power transmission towers were destroyed and more than 30,000 utility poles fell.

  • Millions of trees fell, and more continued to break and fall for the rest of the winter.

  • Estimated cost of the ice storm was $5,410,184,000.

  • By June 1998, about 600,000 insurance claims totalling more than $1 billion were filed.

Summary of Ice Storm of 1998

  • Freezing rain started on Monday, January 5, 1998 as Canadians were starting back to work after the Christmas holidays.

  • The storm coated everything in glassy ice, making all forms of transportation treacherous.

  • As the storm continued, layers of ice built up, weighing down power lines and poles, and causing massive power outages.

  • At the height of the ice storm, 57 communities in Ontario and 200 in Quebec declared a disaster. More than 3 million people were without power in Quebec and 1.5 million in Eastern Ontario. About 100,000 people went into shelters.

  • By Thursday, January 8, the military was brought in to help clear debris, provide medical assistance, evacuate residents, and canvass door-to-door to make sure people were safe. They also worked to restore power.

  • Power was restored in most urban areas in a matter of days, but many rural communities suffered for much longer. Three weeks after the beginning of the storm, there were still 700,000 people without power.

  • Farmers were especially hard hit. Nearly a quarter of Canada's dairy cows, a third of the crop land in Quebec and a quarter in Ontario were in the affected areas.

  • Milk processing plants were shut, and about 10 million litres of milk had to be dumped.

  • Much of the sugar bush used by Quebec maple syrup producers was permanently destroyed. It was estimated that it would take 30 to 40 years before syrup production could return to normal.

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