Canadian Geographic
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Extremes of weather

Icy agony

Freezing rain, precipitation that falls through a shallow layer of freezing temperatures before melting and then freezing upon impact, makes regular, transitory appearances during Canadian winters. But, on Jan. 5, 1998, freezing rain began to fall and continued for six days without letup, crippling eastern Ontario, southern Quebec, and the Maritimes. Trees snapped, roofs collapsed, and high-voltage towers crumpled under the weight of a 5-to-7.5-cm veneer of ice. The electrical system failed, leaving 4 million people in frozen darkness for at least 36 hours. Thousands took refuge in emergency shelters where many stayed for weeks. In the largest peacetime troop deployment in Canadian history, the army was called in to help. Storm-related claims totaled at least $2 billion. The ice storm caused 22 deaths in Quebec and 4 in Ontario.


Ice storm This animation shows the progression of the 1998 ice storm across southern Ontario, southern Quebec and into the Maritimes. A red line depicts the boundary between warm air and cold masses. Label show the date described, while blue shading moves across the map to indicate the areas affected by freezing rain through the duration of the ice storm of January, 1998. A caption at the end of the animation states “One meteorologist called it a bayou storm in an eastern Canadian winter.” A menu gives viewers a menu leading to specific information about the cost of the ice storm.

Content (Narration)

In early January 1998, a southern jet stream picked up warm, moist air around the Gulf of Mexico, and then turned north toward Canada.

There it collided with a stagnant cold air mass, forcing the warm air to rise. On January 5th, rain began to fall — cooling as it descended through the cold air and freezing upon impact.

The ice storm continued unabated for six straight days, crippling much of eastern Ontario, southern Quebec and the Maritimes. Under the weight of accumulated ice, trees snapped and roofs and high-voltage electrical towers collapsed, leaving millions of people freezing in the dark.

On the next page:

Anatomy of a thunderstorm

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Quiz :

What are the clouds called that are formed by warm air rising?