WINNIPEG — Twenty years ago Winnipeg was hit by a massive spring blizzard that was a catalyst to the Flood of the Century. Nearly 50 cm of snow fell over a four day period.
On April 5, 1997 the storm storm rolled in and lasted 24 hours – bringing the city to a halt.
The relentless whiteout forced drivers to abandon their cars on the roads. Traffic lights toppled over, air planes were grounded and hundreds of travelers were stranded at the Winnipeg airport.
Every highway and school shut down. Ambulances were even assigned a front end loader to help get them through the massive snow drifts.
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“Everybody that would normally go to the hospital on their own, no longer could do that,” Ron Sneath, a former Winnipeg paramedic said. “So they called ambulances. Everybody that was going to have a baby that day, called an ambulance.”
He said in some cases it would take paramedics 45 minutes to an hour to get to a call, and that was with a front end loader driving in front.
Spring temperatures also made the snow wet and heavy causing hydro lines to snap and roofs to collapse under the weight.
Quick facts about the 1997 blizzard
Former Environment Canada meteorologist, Jay Anderson was working at the weather office when the initial warning was issued for the storm.
Anderson said the Red River levels were already high at the time of the storm.
“We certainly knew when we saw this Colorado low coming… that it was kind a ‘we’re doomed’ scenario,” he said.
“In my career as a meteorologist it was probably the single most important event that happened in terms of the extent of damage and the uniqueness of the event.”
WATCH: Former weather specialist, Jay Anderson breaks down the 1997 blizzard
A catalyst for the flood
In Manitoba’s already waterlogged Red River Valley, the blizzard could not have come at a worse time.
READ MORE: 5 of the worst floods in Canadian history
The snow storm more than doubled the spring water run off leading to what is known as the Flood of the Century.
During the next two months, the Red River Valley area was be hit with the most severe flood the area has experience in more than a century.
Soon all the snow blowers were replaced by military efforts to help sandbag and build emergency dikes during a flood that would cost the city $51 million in damage.
Over the next few weeks Global News will release more archival videos, pictures and stories of the flood that transformed the future of our city and province.
Here is a look at the timeline of events.