Great Ice Storm that devastated Ontario hit 19 years ago today

The layers of frozen damage included some 1,000 transmission towers downed and 35 lives lost

Jan 4th, 2017
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Nineteen years ago today (Jan. 4, 1998) was a bitter day for the Ontario power grid. The Great Ice Storm of 1998 arrived, bringing with it power disruptions and a death toll not seen in many years.

The layers of frozen damage included some 1,000 transmission towers downed and 35 lives lost.

According to a story last year by the Ottawa Citizen, the Great Ice Storm knocked out power to about 1.2 million homes in Quebec, or about half the population. Another 250,000 homes in Ontario lost their electricity.

Customers in northern New York and central Maine also suffered under the storm, but far and away Canada was hit hardest. The nation sent out some 16,000 troops, its biggest deployment since the Korean War.

About 600,000 residents were forced to evacuate, according to the Ottawa Citizen article. “An estimated 11,000 hydro poles, 1,000 transformers and 300 steel towers were damaged in Ontario alone,” the story recounts.

Yet the torch of human kindness and adaptation burned bright even amidst the chill. People ate dinner by candlelight, neighbor helped neighbor, people walked miles in the snow and ice to catch a bus to work because the trains were out of action.

The severe damage caused by close to 80 hours of icing led to a major rebuilding of the power grid in that region. The storm proved that, no matter how strong we build something (a trans-Atlantic ship that cannot “sink,” or a hardened transmission system), nature can undo it within a matter of hours. Yet, once again, it showed that utilities and the people who work for them will persevere, find out how to build it even better and do it.

You can’t keep a good man, or a transmission tower, down for long.

Author: Rod Walton has been senior editor at POWERGRID International and Electric Light & Power since August 2015. Prior to that he spent nearly three decades as a journalist, including seven years covering the energy industry for the Tulsa World.

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