Laurissa Anyas-Weiss, content producer
June 1, 2009 — The ice storm of 1998 is considered the worst of recent memory due to the vast area it affected, the sheer number of people it impacted and the amount of water in the form of freezing rain and ice pellets that fell.
From January 5-10 1998, the total water equivalent of precipitation, comprising mostly freezing rain and ice pellets and a bit of snow, exceeded 85 mm in Ottawa, 73 mm in Kingston, 108 in Cornwall and 100 mm in Montreal.
Previous major ice storms in the region, notably December 1986 in Ottawa and February 1961 in Montreal, deposited between 30 and 40 mm of ice - about half the thickness from the 1998 storm event! The extent of the area affected by the ice was enormous. Freezing precipitation is often described as 'a line of' or 'spotty occurrences of'. At the peak of the 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 coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In the United States, icing coated Northern New York and parts of New England.
What made the ice storm so unusual though, was that it went on for so long. On average, Ottawa and Montreal receive freezing precipitation on 12 to 17 days a year. Each episode generally lasts for only a few hours at a time, for an annual average total between 45 to 65 hours. During Ice Storm'98, it did not rain continuously, however; the number of hours of freezing rain and drizzle was in excess of 80 - again nearly double the normal annual total.
Unlucky too! The storm brutalized one of the largest populated and urbanized areas of North America leaving more than four million people freezing in the dark for hours, if not, days. Without question, the storm directly affected more people than any previous weather event in Canadian history. Into the third week following the onset of the storm, more than 700,000 were still without electricity. Had the storm tracked 100 km farther east or west of its main target, the disruptive effect would have been far less crippling.
How did the storm affect Canada:
Source: Environment Canada