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Remembering Montreal's 200-vehicle pileup, from sunshine to whiteout

Friday, February 19th 2021, 5:15 am - It was a sunny day, but then strong winds and existing snow created deathly conditions.

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On Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, at around 12:30 p.m., approximately 200 vehicles were involved in a massive collision on Highway 15 in La Prairie, Montreal. The accident was so bad that it was covered by The New York Times.

These are difficult articles to write, but this event can be used as a cautionary tale.

It was a sunny day in Montreal.

It wasn't snowing on that Wednesday, but there was plenty of snow on the ground. And on the Saint Lawrence River.

Highway 15 runs through western Quebec and a portion of it hugs the Saint Lawrence River. On that sunny day, vehicles were driving at normal highway speeds, around 100 km/h.

But then, strong gusts of wind blew snow from the Saint Lawrence River across the highway, creating whiteout conditions for the drivers.

Out of the 200 vehicles involved in the accident, only 50 were able to drive away.

One of the vehicles in the collision was a tanker truck. The tank ruptured and diesel spilled all over the road. Because of this, emergency rescue personnel had difficulty swiftly accessing all vehicles.

Firefighters used hydraulic cutters on at least nine vehicles to free people who were trapped inside.

Around 150 people were shuttled away from the accident to a community centre for health evaluations.

Three local hospitals had to go into their state of emergency as they were overwhelmed with the dozens of patients they received from the accident.

The accident led to two deaths.

The highway was plowed and snow-free. Driving conditions were fine until they weren't. A reminder of how quickly driving conditions can change in the winter.

To hear more about the Highway 15 accident, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features unique and informative stories from host Chris Mei.

Thumbnail courtesy of CBC

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