Looking back at the Ice Storm of 1998

A woman walks past a downed hydro pylon near St-Constant, Que. after one of the worst ice storms to hit Canada struck eastern Ontario and Quebec in January 1998. Robert Galbraith/CP PHOTO

TORONTO – The freezing rain that is hitting much of southern and eastern Ontario may remind some of the ice storm of 1998.

However, this storm isn’t nearly as bad as the one that left nearly a million people without power across eastern Ontario and parts of Quebec.

READ MORE: Snow, ice pellets and freezing rain hitting Eastern Canada this weekend

Between January 4 and 10, 1998, parts of eastern Ontario and Quebec were hit by three storms. The total precipitation from the storms totalled 80 mm or more.

Similar to this storm — and as is similar in many weather systems that affect southern Ontario — the Ice Storm of 1998 began in Texas.

GALLERY: The Ice Storm of 1998
Pedestrians make their way past broken branches as clean-up operations begin in Montreal following an ice storm in 1998. Ryan Remiorz/CP PHOTO
Hydro workers prepare equipment to replace downed transmission towers in St. Sebastien, Quebec, after an ice storm knocked out power to nearly 900,000 people in the province. Ryan Remiorz/CP PHOTO
Residents get out the shovels in Montreal Saturday to get rid of five days worth of freezing rain and snow following the ice storm of 1998. Rob Galbraith/CP PHOTO
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces walk to their headquarters in Westmount on January 9, 1998, after the ice storm of 1998. Robert Galbraith/CP PHOTO
Cpl. Chris Mckee (centre) along with other members of the Royal Canadian Dragoons clear branches from roads in the east end of Ottawa after a devastating ice storm struck eastern Ontario and parts of Quebec in 1998. Jonathan Hayward/CP PHOTO

The low pressure, warm front moved in along with a high-pressure Arctic cold front. The two air masses collided keeping the cold air down, and the warmer air higher up in the atmosphere. This meant that the precipitation fell as rain, but then froze once it hit the cooler ground.

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The ice accreted — which is a gradual process where layers of ice grow — on hydro towers, downing several kilometres of power lines and telephone cables.

People sought refuge in hotels or tried to stay as warm as they could in their homes. Nearly 16,000 troops were dispatched to the areas, making it the largest peacetime deployment in Canadian history.

The Ice Storm of 1998 was one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the insured losses of the Ice Storm of 1998 totalled $1.6 billion. The total economic costs were estimated to be between $5 to $7 billion.

One of the hardest hit industries was the maple syrup industry. Millions of tree branches were damaged, which affected sap flow.

The freezing rain that is falling over southwestern and eastern Ontario this weekend is likely to produce 50 mm or more in some areas. In the GTA, however, it is likely that it will be closer to 20 or 30 mm — nowhere near the nearly 100 mm that fell in Ottawa in 1998.

There is no doubt that thousands will be affected by this event, however. As of 8 p.m. on Saturday, Ontario Hydro was reporting 22 outages, affecting over 22,000 people. And that is before the worst of the storm was to hit.

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However, it is unlikely that this ice storm will be anywhere near as devastating as the Ice Storm of 1998.

For more info on Toronto weather, visit our Skytracker page, as the freezing rain event, the path and intensity could change.

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