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The big one: January 5 marks the anniversary of the catastrophic 1998 ice storm


Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Monday, January 5, 2015, 1:27 PM - When temps are near-zero, hours of freezing rain can turn into a damaging ice storm.

People in Quebec are sorting out the aftermath of such a storm over the weekend, which made travel and nightmare and left 150,000 Hydro-Quebec customers in the dark as ice-laden tree branches fell on power lines.

A little more than a year ago, people from Ontario to the Maritimes went without power, sometimes for days, after several days of freezing rain left ice accretions as much as 3 cm on roads, trees and power infrastructure.

But those pale in comparison to the 1998 ice storm, a massive catastrophe that Canadians will be telling their grand children about.

It began on January 5, kicking off an astounding 80 hours of freezing precipitation, during a winter that was actually relatively mild.

Environment Canada says around 100 mm of precipitation fell over that time, from Georgian Bay to the Bay of Fundy.

At least 35 people are known to have lost their lives, and millions more lost power, and some wouldn't get it back for weeks. 

That's because the ice build up brought down millions of trees, more than a thousand transmission powers, 30,000 utility poles and "enough wires and cables to stretch around the world three times."

It resulted in one of the largest insurance payouts in Canadian history, around $1.5 billion, at the time three times larger than any other Canadian natural disaster. Environment Canada says additional coverage by government and industry account for some $3 billion.

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