A series of low pressure systems brought multiple rounds of freezing rain to parts of Canada and New England in the early days of 1998. This remarkable storm was a prime example of the destructive potential of major ice storms. From January 4 to January 10, three to five inches of ice accumulated in a swath along the Saint Lawrence River Valley, devastating trees, power lines and crumbling transmission towers. Many homes and vehicles were damaged by falling trees and limbs, and the storm ultimately left 35 people dead and billions in damage.

Statistics:

  • 35 Deaths
  • 945 Injuries
  • $4-6 Billion in Damage (USD)
  • 1,300+ transmission towers collapsed
  • 17,000+ troops deployed (Canadian + US)

40 mm = 1.6 in, 60 mm = 2.4 in, 80 mm = 3.1 in, 100 mm = 3.9 in

To put the destruction in perspective, if this was a hurricane it might have been among the top 20 costliest hurricanes on record. Millions of tree were downed by the ice, and thousands remained without power three weeks after the storm. Livestock and the maple syrup industry were hard hit, with businesses taking months or years to recover.

The storm was the result of broad low pressure over the Rockies blocked by strong high pressure to the east. The enabled a pattern of southerly flow riding over an arctic air mass. The worst days of the storm were January 7th through the 9th as low pressure intensified, enhancing the moist flow of air from the south. A radar loop of this time period shows the near-continuous stream of precipitation.

While the ice storm of 1998 was an anomaly, with enough time, an event of this magnitude will occur again. Below is a map from 2002 study showing the average days with freezing rain between 1949 and 2000. Ice storm hot spots are most notably the Pacific Northwest then New England down through western North Carolina and back through the Midwest.

For those interested, below is a news broadcast covering the 1998 storm as it happened.

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