Montreal’s icy onslaught

The sounds were inescapable: tree limbs cracking, power lines sparking, all of them crashing to the ground in various directions. From Monday to Friday, January 5-9,1998, the zone from northern New England to the St Lawrence Valley was locked in a strange and deadly weather pattern. While sub-freezing air held firm near the ground, wave after wave of Atlantic moisture got pulled north on top of it by an energetic branch of the jet stream. This produced more and more rain, followed by more and more freezing. Across the region, over four million people lost electricity, some for as long as a month. The most concentrated weather war zone was Montreal, where over 400 shelters housed more than 15,000 refugees. The storm brought down more than 129,000km/80,000 miles of power lines across Quebec. Fears of a firestorm percolated as the city, on two occasions, came close to a complete loss of water pressure.

Oddly enough, this weather disaster – the worst in Canada's history – may be related to a warming of the tropical Pacific. Some computer models indicated that the record 1997-98 El Nino helped create the unusual jet-stream configuration that led to the colossal ice storm.