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Remembering... Ice Storm of 1998 — suzanne-mcrae.com

Remembering… Ice Storm of 1998

Ice storm of 1998, began back on January 4th, 15 years ago today. We got dumped with about 80 hours or so of non-stop freezing rain, which resulted in 19 days without electricity in our area. Some of the worst parts that were affected were Eastern Ontario as well as southwestern Quebec and even parts of northern New York where trees, hydro wires fell, utility poles and transmission towers came crumbling down causing massive power outages for millions of residents in the coldest month of winter.

Two days after it began several of our trees were bent over with the highest branches now touching the ground. As beautiful as it was so see all that ice on the trees, it was awfully scary to realize what we might be in for let alone the damage this disaster was causing.

For our family the excitement all began the day before, late in the afternoon when I went to the basement to go and get something I stepped in water. There was a flood in our basement so I immediately got on the phone to my husband at work and as soon as I said that there was water in the basement he knew what the problem was. He had disconnected the sump-pump for something and had forgotten to plug it back in the day before. Water was coming in with no pump to take it out, it had nowhere to go but on the floor. Luckily for us the basement was only partly finished then, but still there were toys soaked in water and my husband’s workshop where everything that was near the floor got wet, pieces of carpets in the playroom too, all had to get cleaned up. Hours later with both of us mopping, drying using the shopvac and cleaning up we came back upstairs exhausted. We made ourselves a plate of nachos, a very late dinner around 11:30 pm that evening before we went to bed.

Outside we could hear the freezing rain continuing and the snapping sound of branches and trees breaking in the backyard felt eerie. When we opened our bedroom window to listen, it was terrifying. Within minutes of going to bed the power went out, it was shortly after midnight. We knew then that it was not good with the freezing rain still coming and no signs of it ending.

As several of our trees continued to bend under the weight of the ice, some were breaking. They simply could not handle all the extra weight. Our white birch trees in our yard were in the worst shape of all. As I watched from our living room window, the hydro wires were coated and the ice kept getting thicker and thicker. I can’t remember exactly the date that the power went out, it was probably 4 days after the freezing rain began, but I do remember very clearly the power outage for us lasted 19 days in total.

Back then my husband worked as a dispatcher for a local fuel company. He had a very demanding job in the best of days. But this storm basically had him living at work. He was gone to work by 5 am if not earlier and was not be able to return home until midnight most nights during the ice storm. The kids didn’t really see much of him during those weeks. He barely got any sleep, and even then he was always on call so the phone was always ringing at night for him to deal with one issue or another and there were lots. He had an unimaginable job to do during the weeks of no electricity, where fuel had to be delivered for emergency services and he was the guy that had to make sure it was happening.
Ice Storm 1998

During the ice storm of 1998 our family and many others in this area survived without electricity for 19 days

During the ice storm I was at home with our two children, holding up the fort while my husband worked long endless hours. Our daughter was 9 years old at the time and our son was 7. We had a fireplace in our living room, so we used wood to heat that part of our home. This is what kept us warm. We closed the doors to the rooms, and my husband had put a huge tarp over the entrance from the kitchen to the living room to keep the heat mostly in the one room where we spent all of our time. We had no generator. The generators were not exactly affordable to us at that time, they were thousands of dollars plus they were sold like hot cakes during the ice storm. We were very grateful when my husband’s brother had purchased a generator, he lived up the street from us and came over once a day so we could connect to our hot water tank, plug in our sump-pump, start the furnace so we could stay in our home. He did that for at least the first week. Another neighbor a few houses down from us had hundreds of feet of extension cord, and a few times he came over with his extension cord plugged into his generator and we got to plug in the TV for the kids to watch. That was great. The kids welcomed an hour of watching television, except our son who has autism he did not understand why it was on then it would stop. There was no way of explaining this electricity thing to him… and there still isn’t to this day. He gets frustrated when there’s a power outage.

There were many sleepless nights where we were terrified with the weight of the ice on our roof and that it might collapse, while listening to the loud bangs on the roof with the ice cracking. It was no fun. On day 6 of no electricity, I remember before going to bed one night we noticed that the wall above our fireplace was getting extremely hot. We were terrified of a fire. We had been using our fireplace to keep us warm all this time since the power outage. Needless to say we let the fire die out that night. It was cold in the house even with the fireplace going, and the only room that was warm was the living room. We were dressed in layers and had thick blankets to keep us warm at night. At that time we had a sofa bed in our living room so that came in handy to sleep and we brought in our children’s mattresses in that room too. We lived in that room for almost 3 weeks. Those weeks of playing games, doing puzzles and attempting especially to keep our son entertained felt challenging at times, and I was running out of ideas. Our son liked his Game Boy, but back then he’d get so upset when he would lose, there were lots of stressful moments for him. Our daughter loved to listen to one of her music cassette tape that she had over and over on our battery operated radio/tape recorder. Actually her brother liked it as much as she did. The cassette tape was called Sailor Moon, it that still sticks in my head to this day.

Into the 2nd week into the ice storm a friend’s friend who lived an hour or so away no longer needed their generator since their power had returned. When we were asked if we would like to borrow it, we were ecstatic. That solved a lot of stress we were feeling wondering what was going to happen with no power and no generator for us.

Ice Storm 1998

They had set up an emergency center at our community hall where some people who had no choice but to leave their home could go to sleep and eat. The army had come in to help out wherever they were needed at the center and in the community. It sure was a comforting and welcoming feeling to have them there. When the ice storm began my worst fear was that we’d have to go and stay at the community center. I just couldn’t envision how that could have worked out with our son who has autism. Luckily we didn’t have to. Someone was surely watching out over us. We had tremendous support throughout the storm, people dropping by with a generator, a few people who took my kids for an afternoon each, neighbours that came by with a pump of some sort to empty out the water that the sump-pump would normally do the job, and I know that there is more that I’m forgetting.

During all of those weeks I could not use the stove, so all our meals had to be cooked on the BBQ. I was at home alone with our kids so I left our daughter in charge of keeping an eye on her brother while I went out to cook. I remember running in/out as I attempted to cook outdoors to keep an eye on them. I was terrified since we had to use candles for lighting, afraid of a fire, afraid that her long-hair could catch fire if she went too close or if her brother became fascinated with fire that something might happen while I was outside for a few minutes cooking. Luckily none of the above happened. We used a cooler to keep some basic foods cold outside. A few of the staff where my husband worked, where they lived their power came back fairly quickly, so they would bring in food, batteries and whatever other essentials were needed. That came in very handy for us since I was stuck at home with a car but unable to go anywhere because it was frozen in 6-8” of ice. We were on town water for which we were so grateful, we could use water and could flush the toilet, we even managed to shower quickly when the hot water tank got charged up with a generator. My husband was afraid that the pipes might freeze in the house, luckily they never did. The few hours he had off work, he would chip away at the ice build up in our eavesthrough and he’d knock the ice off the trees that had bent over in our yard. There was no way he could get close to the forest past our backyard to do the same, it was just too dangerous with all the trees not knowing if one might come down with the weight of the ice on them. That spring he had a mess to clean up, branches to pick up and cut, trees that needed to be cut down from the damage but thankfully we had no damage to our home.

One particular day when it had been a few weeks where I had been cooped up in the house I needed to get out even if for a few minutes. My daughter was gone to a friend’s probably that day so I was home alone with our son but I knew I could go outside for a minutes and he’d be fine by himself. I was just going to the end of our driveway at the mailbox. So out I went to get the mail, not thinking that it was still very icy and I could have fallen and he would have been home alone. Not good. As I started to make my way back up the driveway I couldn’t go up… there’s a bit of a slope to get to our house. I was terrified for a few moments thinking that was it I was stuck sliding and going nowhere. But I did manage to get back and learned a lesson that day.

We were getting close to 3 weeks of being without electricity, we were hearing that some areas their power was being restored. Surely it was coming our way too. On the 18th day I remember that evening looking half a mile away to our town we could see the power had returned. There were lights. That’s when it hit me of  how fed up I really was. I had held it together that long and now I was ready and wanted normalcy to return to our lives. I wanted us to have electricity also. It felt like we were the only people left on the planet that didn’t have any. It felt like we had been forgotten. The next morning the kids were returning to school, we still had no power. That afternoon it came back just before they returned home, that was day 19.

During those weeks the dead silence, snapping and breaking of trees like they were twigs, seeing the weight of the ice on everything, the cracking and loud bangs of the ice on the roof of our home were some of the worse parts. My husband didn’t tell me for a long time after what it really looked like on his drive to work. He didn’t want me to worry about him having to go to work every single day during that time and what the roads were like. He told me that it looked like a war zone as he drove to work. So many of the electrical wires down on the ground, even some hydro poles, everything was in total darkness.

As I remember the Ice Storm of 1998, I must admit that there was a highlight and the most fun thing that we did once it quit raining and freezing eventually, I unburied a natural skating rink for our kids. I knew that the kids had to go outside to play. So one day I brought them outside with me and I grabbed a huge snow scoop we had and began clearing out the snow from the front yard. The ice was so thick underneath on our lawn I thought that surely the kids could skate on it. I went slightly overboard with my idea and cleaned out the front yard, the side yard and partly into the back yard. That front part of our front lawn is about 150’ not counting the side and part of the back. By the time I was done they had what I called roadways all over the lawn to skate. It was a winter wonderland and such a fun time for them. We even had a skating party one afternoon with a handful of local moms and their kids, we were about 15 people and even made hot chocolate on the BBQ. Being able to have a skating rink wherever we wanted to on the lawn was the best part of the ice storm.

Ice Storm 1998
Ice Storm 1998

This ice storm taught us that we are resilient and that people and communities really do come together to help one another in times of need.

Suzanne xo

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  1. I am totally speechless, that is the most ghastly ice storm I have ever seen. I cannot imagine 19 days without electric and 2 small children. You are definitely made of angel dust and immense love. Many hugs Suzanne. Bless You!
    Lisa Rivas recently posted..Sequins a galore!My Profile

    • Lisa, you had me laughing at the angel dust part. You know looking back we survived and managed. When I think of other disasters all around our world, this was probably mild in comparison to what so many others have gone through. We had warmth, food and a roof over our heads, and somehow it made us stronger in the end. Thanks for dropping by. Loved your comment… it put a smile on my face. 🙂

  2. Wow Suzanne! That was full on for you and your husband. I totally get how hard it would have been for you from the way you described it. I find it difficult being stuck at home with my littlies getting cabin fever after just a couple of days of bad weather in winter. It surely does make you realize what you are made of and well done for keeping it together for your son and daughter. Community spirit is definitely alive and well and it is totally heartwarming. Thanks for sharing that. It makes me appreciate my home comforts that bit more. x Tanya
    Tanya Anne Cole recently posted..Day 3 & 4 of a month of GratitudeMy Profile

    • Hi Tanya, thank you for coming over to read my post. Glad you enjoyed it. I knew that I had to write about the ice storm. But I must admit that I never thought that it was 15 years ago already. We did survive and learn a lot of lessons during those 3 weeks of having life standstill and having to find ways to cope better with the situation. Not one that I’d want to experience again though. xo

  3. We live in the country and power outages are the norm when weather hits. But never, thank God, 18 days. Four or five days is bad enough. And with young children in an Ontario winter, no thank you.

    And then you remember that this is the way it used to be for most of human history. Makes me glad to live in a developed nation during the 21st century.
    Susan recently posted..The WordMy Profile

    • Susan, my father told me that when he was about 10 years old late ’30’s I believe it was they had had an ice storm. But for them they had no electricity and walked to school so things were really not all that different. They were unaffected pretty much because they didn’t have modern commodities yet.

  4. Suzanne this a beautiful story. I enjoyed reading it and was proud to see your strength shine through every single word!

  5. Oh my goodness, Suzanne, there’s no ice around here, but the thought of the roof falling in or the house catching on fire, or your daughter’s hair, send chills up my spine. An epic recount which makes me think of indigenous peoples for whom electricity was a complete unknown. Civilisation is wonderful, and appreciated all the more when we lose it.
    suzi recently posted..1000 words for Summer – moonlight dancingMy Profile

    • So happy you enjoyed reading our ice storm story Suzi. Those were some of my real concerns and fears during the ice storm. I’m glad that it wasn’t worse than that. Makes me appreciate so much.

  6. What an exciting post! Took me back… 15 years! ALREADY??? Wow. I was new to teaching and that morning, I wasn’t feeling very well, but I had to get in to work (it wasn’t like me to complain and miss days). I didn’t have a car back then, so I “walked” to the bus stop (although I wouldn’t call it walking… I think I crawled there using my hands, feet and teeth!) Once on the bus, I didn’t think much of it. The driver did his thing, and soon enough, I was at the “Metro” (subway) station and then underground for the rest of my trip to work. I saw nothing, heard nothing.

    After an hour of travel, I finally reappeared in the outside world and realized how terrible the weather really was. Again, I crawled/slid/glided to my workplace/school only to find some teachers standing outside waving their arms not to try walking up the walkway – it hadn’t been salted, the caretaker was not in yet, and one teacher had already fallen. I’m not sure how I never did manage to fall myself.

    Well, we eventually learned that schools were shut-down all over Montreal! WHAT? Well, it was 15 years ago… no internet access at my fingertips and back home, things didn’t look this bad when I had left.

    So, after a little dance of joy, I headed back home.

    We never lost power, we were one of the lucky ones. However, I was sick and getting sicker and sicker… fever, vomiting, coughing… the works. I watched the news non-stop and knew it would be a bad idea to try to get to a clinic, if any were even open! After a week of fever and things getting worse for me, I did walk to my doctor’s office to learn that I had bronchitis. I think that what had started as a little cold that morning got progressively worse because of my innocent travels to work that Ice Storm morning.

    That was, by the way, the last time I was ever sick… except for this past week… a cough, a cold and chills… reminding me of 15 years ago! Can you believe it?

    That’s my story from Montreal, Quebec!

    As I read your story, Suzanne, I was holding my breath! 19 days! 2 children under 10! I don’t know how I’d do it, being a mother now, worrying about my child if we were in a situation without power! Thank you for sharing this. Brought back great and not-so-great memories. It’s nice to read what others were up to during at that exact time. It just shows how interconnected we all are.
    Gabriella recently posted..Reflections on 2012 and 2013’s Word of the YearMy Profile

    • Oh my goodness Gabriella. I loved reading your own Ice Storm 1998 story. That is incredible that you never lost power during the Ice Storm. You were one dedicated employee to be going to work that day. So glad you didn’t get hurt doing it. You certainly did not have great time off then with being so sick. How horrible.

      I’m grateful that somehow I managed mostly on my own all those days with the kids at home alone for most of that time and the little bit that my husband was able to be with us. But I knew that neighbours and the community where there helping each other. All I would have had to do was somehow contact someone. I can’t even remember but probably the phone lines were down too, I can’t recall now. xo

  7. Sierra Mahaffy says:

    Suzanne, I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. I can’t imagine living in one room for 19 days, two children, no electricity, cooking on a grill, especially without my husband!!!! I am sure glad you had a fireplace so you could remain at home!!!! Great, interesting post!!!! 🙂

  8. Suzanne your story of the ice storm had me glued to the story. What a challenge and you handled it extremely well. Hard to imagine such a thing where I live. Makes one think about these elements of nature and where we are heading as humans with all the technology that we increasingly rely upon.
    Lynn Matthews recently posted..Balancing ActMy Profile

    • Lynn, this Ice Storm made me realize that we have no power over mother nature and the elements that she sends to us with nature. You feel pretty helpless when faced with such extremes. And I know that so many others around the world have endured way worse catastrophies. Thank you for dropping by.

  9. What an amazing story, Suzanne! I cannot imagine being without power – especially in the dead of winter – for 19 days. While reading this post, I felt grateful you had a woodstove, but never considered how that, too, could’ve become a threat, getting too hot!

    The part I really loved reading about what the impromptu neighborhood party with kids + moms, including hot cocoa on the BBQ! I bet the kids from your area will never forget it.

    Thank you for sharing such a tremendous story with us!
    Becky in Burma recently posted..2013 Words of the YearMy Profile

    • Becky, I think there are so many things that we don’t ever stop to imagine if it ever happened to us. This was one that caught me by surprise. I wish we had had a woodstove during the ice storm. I would have welcomed that heat and having been able to cook in the house. We had just a fireplace in our living room, not as energy efficient but so grateful for it. Otherwise we would not have been able to have stayed in our home.

      The ice skating party and me cleaning up most of our yard so the kids could skate sure was my highlight. I was just overjoyed when I saw that my own kids and that day some friends could have fun like kids should and not feel worried themselves.

      Loved having you over to read. Appreciate your comment so much… as always. 🙂 xo

  10. What an incredible story, Suzanne! Wow. It makes me want to run out and buy a generator right now. Good to remember how wonderful our neighbors are, and people thinking about us.

    Today, there is a guy at my work whose young son died at age 8 last night. He had heart issues and died in surgery. In our office, everyone knows everyone. I have worked here for about nine years and we are like a family. This was so sad and yet I am sure that all of us are wondering what we can even do to help this poor family who lost a boy so young. Your story is so helpful today. It reminds me that it is the little things that count. Maybe there is something that I can do for them, even though I know that there is nothing in this world that could take away a pain like that.
    Amy Putkonen recently posted..The Study of Stillness: Part 3My Profile

    • You know Amy after all those years since the Ice Storm of 1998 we only purchased a generator last year in 2012. It’s a big reassurance knowing if it is ever needed we have one now.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your co-worker’s young son. That is so sad for a family. We don’t like to see people endure such pain and loss and we feel at a loss ourselves when it happens. It comes and gets something deep in us too. It’s hard to know what to do. I have been in a similar situation when a neighbour loss her partner to suicide… all I could do was be there after for her, listen and give her the space she needed to cry and talk as much or as little as she needed. Many years later she still appreciates the presence that I was in her life at that time. So as small as we think the difference is that we are making, it usually makes a world of difference for someone else. Keeping you, the young boy’s family and your co-workers in my prayers. xo

  11. I always enjoy reading your stories about days gone by. What an incredible experience you went through. I love the skating rink you created in your yard and just how strong you are your family was to get through those times together. It’s so wonderful when people pull together to support each other.
    Michele Bergh recently posted..10 Questions: What Makes You Tick?My Profile

  12. you’re describing a bad dream I often have
    of icy weather and no power
    ….I have some gnarly memories
    of 8 days without power
    ….BUT 19!!!!
    Oh my, a pioneer woman, you.
    You have my admiration!
    well done surviving and thriving, friend,
    Jennifer Richardson recently posted..breezes and bellsMy Profile

    • I have since thought often of the pioneer women like my grandmothers and other ancestors who had no electricity and endured so many challenges all the time. It gave me a little taste (very little probably) of what they lived through. It certainly made me appreciate my life and how easy we have it in comparison. xo

  13. This story reminds me a lot of the Michigan snow storm of in February of 1965. Our home was located right smack in the middle of the block. While we kids got a snow day, my father had to go to work. So, being an only child, he enlisted me to help him shovel out one whole side of the alley behind our garage. No one else came out to help — guess they figured it was an easy stay out of work day for them. Not my Dad, though. Is it any wonder where I inherited my sense of character and integrity? He died in 1970, when he was 39 and I was 14. Miss him and the snow — every year at this time. Kudos to you for being such a trooper in such a rough {though pretty….you HAVE to admit there still was beauty to be found} time. I can imagine what it must have been like. So can my husband who, as a California born and breed boy, has made it absolutely firm that he has no desire to do more than look at snow from afar. 🙂
    Robin Heim recently posted..Of January and Winter and PoetryMy Profile

    • Robin, I’m so sorry to hear that your dad passed away at such a young age. You were so young yourself. That has to be incredibly tough for you even to this day. Now where is your husband’s sense of adventure? lol Just teasing, I don’t blame him if he didn’t grow up experiencing snow, I’d probably be running the opposite direction myself. It’s true that there was a lot of beauty to be found during the ice storm 15 years ago. Thank you for dropping by for a visit and for your lovely comment. 🙂

  14. Oh MY. What a story. I’ve heard family stories of blizzards and tornadoes (Montana, Prince Edward Island, Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma), and I’ve lived in Utah, but none of ice storms like *that*. The way you told the story, I was just about there! Like Robin’s husband above, I’m California born and bred – so ice storms are incomprehensible to me. (Earthquakes are another matter…) Thanks for sharing your story of Nature and human resiliency!
    Sue Jorgenson recently posted..Danse Macabre at Mono LakeMy Profile

    • Hi Sue, it’s so wonderful to see you. I’m happy that you felt that you were just about here with us. If you ever desire a little bit of our colder Canadian weather just come on down. 🙂

  15. Suzanne,
    Your story affected me because at the time, I think I lived it vicariously through the media. I lived only a few hours away from affected areas in Northern NY state and my children were around the same ages as yours. I remember seeing on TV all these desperate people waiting for hours to buy generators and thinking, ‘we couldn’t even afford a generator’ since were we barely getting by at the time. I couldn’t imagine how we would’ve coped had the storm dipped further south and hit our town. Then again, we lived in a wonderful community, so I know that we would have been taken care of, one way or the other. Isn’t the human spirit amazing? When you think of how creative and strong you had to be day after day! Thanks for sharing your incredible story!

    • Hi Wendy, thank you for sharing what you remember about the Ice Storm of 1998. That’s where I was at an advantage, I wasn’t able to listen to the news a whole lot so media couldn’t influence me that way with what they were showing. There’s no doubt people were afraid and desperate during this time. Some had it so much worse than we did. Media has a wonderful and not so wonderful way sometimes of portraying all the fear which end up creating more chaos than anything else at times. Being isolated that way during those 19 days certainly had a positive impact for me after all.

  16. Leanne Strong says:

    Hi, I am 24, and I am also on the Autism Spectrum, but I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum from where your son is (my diagnosis used to be called Asperger Syndrome, but now it’s all just Autism Spectrum Disorders or Social Communication Disorders). My hometown was also struck by a bad ice storm in early spring of 2003. I was about 9 at the time because my birthday is in the summer. I was born and raised in Upstate New York, so winter weather in early spring, although a pain in the a**, is nothing unusual to me. But this ice storm was unusual even for the area where I grew up. Many homes in the area were without power for at least a few days because of this ice storm. My family was without power in our home for almost a week (I think approx. 5 or 6 days). We lived in the woods, so that may have had something to do with it.

    The first memory I have of the spring 2003 ice storm is waking up one morning, coming out to the kitchen, and my dad telling me there was no school that day. Now, I am very concrete in my thinking, as many people on the Autism Spectrum are. I was thinking (but I don’t think I actually said), “DAD, IT’S FREAKING SPRING! IT OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T SNOW LAST NIGHT OR THIS MORNING! AND I’M NOT ON A SCHOOL BREAK! HOW COULD I POSSIBLY NOT HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

    I was absolutely terrified of storms and bad weather for at least a few years after this ice storm (and for a while I was even afraid of a small rain shower), because I was afraid we were going to lose power again. Now, we had lost power in our home several times before that, but I was used the power coming back on after several minutes to several hours. I did some research on storms and weather, and now I’m not so scared. In fact, I’m barely even afraid of power outages anymore. I do startle a little bit when I hear thunder, see lightning, or when the power first goes out, but it’s more of a startle reflex than actual fear (I startle easily).

    • Thank you again Leanne, for stopping in to read my blog post and sharing about your experiences. I really appreciate reading your take on storms.

      • Leanne Strong says:

        You’re welcome, Suzanne! I am very glad that I am able to help you understand more about Autism, and what it is like for your son to have to go through this. Now, power outages can be stressful for anyone, but they can be especially stressful if you have special needs, or have someone living with you who does. Now, as I have mentioned, I was born and raised in an area where snow and winter weather in early spring is nothing out of the ordinary (especially because the part of Upstate New York where I grew up is in the snow belt), but this was unusual even for the area where I grew up.


  1. […] dear blogger friend, Suzanne McRae, wrote a beautiful heart-wrenching story about an ice storm her family went through in 1998. In […]

  2. […] son probably got too much of a taste of a power outage during Ice Storm of 1998. I am sure that got engraved in his mind forever with 19 days of no […]

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