How It Works

The North American Ice Storm of 1998

Ice storms are common on the east coast of the US and Canada. The infrastructure is generally prepared for the havoc these storms can wreak, but winter 1998 brought with it the most crippling ice storm in living memory.

By 5 January 1998 it was clear eastern North America was in for a cold spell. An area of unusually high pressure was sitting over the Atlantic, trapping several weather systems on the land. Arctic air was being held at the surface in this area, while a front of low pressure was feeding it with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. The result was 12.7 centimetres (five inches) of freezing rain that fell over 80 hours, crystallising on anything it touched, taking down power lines, felling trees and making roads impassable everywhere. One of the worst-hit cities was Montréal in Québec.

  • Joe Dufort

    I am from Malone, NY and in January 1998 I was shocked at what happened ! The infrastructure of Northern New York state was destroyed in a little over 3 days. The above picture is accurate but one can only imagine this scene repeated nearly everywhere in the Northeastern sector of the US and in Canada. No electricity for 6 days, no TV, no showers, no stove/oven, no driving anywhere! We had drinking water and our wood stove and a freezer full of de-icing meat and vegetables. We stored what we could outdoors in the freezing cold and we cooked as much as we could on the wood stove and kept it chilled on our porch. I guess we got a taste of what the settlers of this land went through!.

    • Patricia Finnegan-Wait

      I live in St. Regis Falls and Niagara Mohawk hooked us up on the Wait Road after 16, yes 16 days at home with a 3 year old..Thank god I had a woodstove for heat and a gas stove to cook on and a very good family friend who was off the grid and delivered water to us and several of his friends everyday so we didn’t have to melt ice…big shout out to Dan Garrett who went above and beyond and looked out for us.

  • Bernita Capstick

    We survived it in Ottawa…..5 days straight!

  • Ed Adams

    Plattsburgh NY. Watched the news night before and local weather man was warning everyone to full fill up there bathtubes and stock as much needed supplies as quickly as possible cause come morning its going to be frozen outside. My phone went off at 6am it was my brother he asked “do u have power” I said yes cause I had seen the alarm clock on, then looked over my shoulder and nope, just lost power. He asked if I had looked outside yet, that when I heard it. The cracking and booming of trees breaking apart, huge branches exploding off by the ice weight. I gasped when I looked outside everything in sight was incased in a full inch or two of solid ice. And that was just the start. My fiance and I stayed in out apartment as long as we could until it was worth the risk of travel to a more prepared, warmer place with fam. The drive was epic, a winter war Zone of downed power lines, poles and trees. We made it the 10 miles or so. Epic storm. Because of that event every winter I am always at least 2 weeks ahead on supplies and always prepare and watch weather like a hawk.

    • Randy Marino

      I lived on Military Tpk off of Jersey Swamp in West Chazy NY coming from NYC in 1996 the first thing I bought was a generator well when that ice storm hit that generator didn’t stop running for 7 days I was the only house that was ready for this storm on the Turnpike ..had the radio set at a local station and DVD’s and movies on hard drives to live on

  • Nordalanche

    From the Rand Hill area just outside of Plattsburgh, NY. Can remember inches of ice on everything from trees, to cars, and of course the roads. Luckily we had a wood stove that provided heat and a method of cooking. Some of our neighbors weren’t so luckily and even spent a few evenings at our house until they could get a generator or find a place with heat. We were out of school for 2 weeks and without power for 2 1/2 weeks. Trees splintered like twigs and the outdoors sounded like a war zone as limbs and branches popped off trees, sounding eerily like gunshots. The roads were impassable for days, while only emergency personnel ventured onto the streets. Those that did, packed chainsaws as the only means of clearing fallen trees from the road and making it to your destination. Utility crews were trucked in from around the country and a state of emergency was quickly declared. My family farm dumped 100,000s of gallons of milk a day, due to the inability of transportation vehicles to navigate the roads and haul it away. Grocery stores were stripped bare as people stocked up on anything and everything. Hauling wood to the stove became a twice daily task as did melting snow and ice in the bathtub for drinking water.

    Despite the countless hardships, this time will forever be etched into the psyche of those that lived through it. Countless conversations, board games and card games were played with family and friends. Neighborhoods became closer than they have ever been, as everyone leaned of each other for support. I can say for a fact that the fastest sledding and tobogganing I have ever done was during the Ice Storm. We ate like royalty as the freezer being without power forced us to eat the best cuts of meat and our store of freshly caught Alaskan salmon from the summer before. Cooking was an all day process, but it kept you sane with something to do. When the utility trucks showed up to restore power, it was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life and the shower that followed was just as amazing.

    However, I sometimes still look back on the Ice Storm of ’98 and recall that it was a once and life time experience. Something that taught us all our place in this world and how fast the infrastructure and communication we have painstakingly built, can all be erased in a matter of moments. It really was a simpler time, even if it was encapsulated in the vacuum that was the Ice Storm. It showed the importance of family and friends, the strength of humanity, and our compassion for others. For two weeks we recalled or for some learned for the first time what it meant to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of our lives. When I think of the Ice Storm of ’98, the one thing I think of most is how proud am to be from the North Country of New York State. We took care of each other when the going got rough and we are all much better people for it!

    • sarah

      you should write a book and start it out with exactly what you have written above… you painted such a good picture in my mind, I think someone who has never experienced a storm like this would have a vivid understanding of what it is like if they read what you wrote.

      • mr618

        I’ll second what Sarah said. Very well done.

      • Shelley Essaunce

        I agree! And I would read your book!

    • Pete P

      Thank you Nordalanche for bringing back my own memories of that time, that are as vivid as what you’ve put forth here. Your recollections provide a rare glimpse into the soul of someone else, during that briefly impossible time.

  • Angèle St-Louis

    Having just turned 17 years old and just having had my first child. I can certainly say this was a scary experience… My child was 8 days old when it all started. It lasted 2-3 weeks in Limoges Ontario. I’m berry happy we had a wood stove to keep warm and a generator to use some small apliences so I could warm weather for my child’s bathing and bottles. We Aldo had a great community that came together, the school was open for people to stay and shower and eat, they would give out food for those of us that had the means to be at home and they also supplied baby formula and diapers. Looking back on those days I still don’t know how we all managed.

  • Dora J Mose

    Mom and I, from Paul Smiths, had a cozy time of it. We simply got out our camping supplies, all our collection of kerosene lamps, closed off what rooms were not necessary. We had gas stove non dependent on electric for pilot light or anything. We pulled out all the kerosun heaters, put out trash barrels to collect water dripping off the eves. During daylight hours Mom and I’d take food up and down the street to those who didn’t have a means to cook. During the night we cooked soups and stews to share during the day light hours. I kept an eye out for Aunt Mary, she refused to leave her home and stay with us, so daily I’d make my way up to her home and tend to her, get back with just enough time to help Mom get our chores done before it got too dark, then would bathe and have a good nights sleep! Then do it all over again the next day! The neighborhood pulled together and were friendly. It’s a shame it took a disaster to get everyone to poke their head out and say HI! to their neighbors!

  • Shiante Stevens

    I will never forget the ice storm of 1998. I was 12 yrs old and lived in Hudson, Maine. That day I had gone to my doctor thinking I had the flu which they had diagnosed me with. At 12-1:30 am the Eastern Maine Medical Center Hospital in Bangor had called my mother telling her I had to immediately be rushed there due to my sugars being high. When I got there they had a crib ready for me not even realizing I was 12! The doctors wanted to run more tests before giving me insulin and my mother ran into the hall screaming she was going to steal it and give it to me if a doctor did not. They called another doctor up whom gave me the shot after realizing my sugar was 1,350! He said if he had not given it to me I would have died even though I should have already been dead. At home we blocked off all extra rooms with blankets and used a kerosene heater. We had flash lights and many candles. I will never forget!

    • chevy girl

      I lived next town over in Bradford. I remember this storm well. It was just before my 16th birthday

  • Edna M Love Schneeberger

    It was NOT in 1998 it had Happened in 1992

    • Jake Bennett

      The ice storm they’re referring to was in 98. There may have been one in 91, but 98’s was the worst in recent history. It covered all of New England and large swaths of New York, and other areas.

      • Chad Winslow

        They used to sell “I survived the ice storm of 98 ” t-shirts around Maine afterwards.

    • Judi Questel

      It most definitely happened in 1998 – I lived through it in Ogdensburg, NY. Two weeks without power or phone, thankfully had a generator and a gas stove.

      • Sandy Putney

        Let’s hear it for the North Country. Might have hadto dump milk cuzip of no way to ship it….but the cows Still had to be milked twice a day. My oldest son, 14 at the time, earned the National Certificate of Merit for Heroism from the Boy Scouts of America, for his actions during the storm. Good boy. Thank goofiness we had a wood stove. Lisbon , NY.

    • Lori Smith


  • I lived in Rockland, Maine during the ice storm of ’98. I think Rockland was the only place where we had power for the duration of the storm (at least in my neighborhood, and that may have been because my building was on the same circuit as the local hospital). My family lived up the coast, and they got slammed. My brother lived slightly inland and was without power for two weeks — fortunately, he had a wood stove and plenty of lamps and candles for light, and he was able to haul water from a spring. There was a radio station, WVOM, that was broadcasting constantly about shelters, people needing help, and places that were price gouging for generators.

    I remember people giving coffee and snacks to the line workers who came in from all over the East Coast to help restore power. My experience was that it brought out the best in about 99% of the people of Maine.

    • Janice Elizabeth Martin

      I lived in Sullivan, Me. It was the 1st time a missed work after 10 years.

    • Ben S

      I was living in a tiny apt. in Hallowell, ME and had just bought a house. We lost power for three days in the apartment, but for almost 2 weeks at the house, which I had planned to work on for a couple of months before moving in. What a disaster. We ended up with a brush pile the size of a school bus in our front yard from all the trees and branches that came down. That storm delayed our move by several months. It’s funny you mention the radio because that is my best memory actually. It was wonderful to listen as folks helped one another over the airwaves. It think it was the only station that was on the air for a few days. We adjusted pretty quickly to being without power, freezing and thawing our food, and refreezing it in a snowbanks along the street and essentially camping out with our neighbors. We had a great system going after a few days. When the power came back on, it was actually kind of a let down.

    • Joslynn Pelletier

      I was in Eddington, ME just out side Bangor and we lived across the river from the Bangor Hydro. We only lost power for one evening because we managed to not have the small grid that came directly from the hydro company go down. We ended up giving shelter to friends who had been without power or heat for days.

    • Lisa Grotton

      I lived in Augusta, my street was one of three streets that has power throughout the storm. I traveled to my grandmother’s house daily for 19 days while she was without power in Rome, Maine.

    • OustTheOs

      I was in Brunswick, ME and my husband lost his electrical supply store, due to power surges. Devastating storm. I delivered mail, out in the ice-crusted countryside and was just looking at the pictures several days ago. We, all, found out what we were really made of, during that time. The Jan. storm was preceded by another really bad one, only a week before…… Mainers ROCK!!!

  • MJ ☆

    I was in 5th grade from Waterville maine. All night for weeks skies blow blue from explosions of transformers. Many had to go to the shelter because of electricity heat.

  • Phil Roberts

    I was living in Machias, Maine at that time and was working the emergency dispatch center when it started. I remember having to call in additional help into the center. I spent the entire duration of the storm either at the dispatch center or the fire department with about four hours of sleep in every 24. I still have the photos I took after the sun came out and things slowed down a little. We were hit extremely hard and lost the major power source when several high line towers collapsed.

  • Lois Baxter

    I was in Orrington, Maine. Lost power for 2 weeks. Not really fun since we have a well and septic. Finally after a week, we got a generator. I think the happiest day of my life was when I saw the Bangor Hydro trucks driving with a search light on my road. About 15 minutes later I heard a noise and it was the fan in the sun room starting to turn. we had Power!!! Thank God for a wood stove which we used to keep warm and melt icicles for water!!! I would be very happy to never go through that again!!!

  • Joshua Dean

    I was in 8th grade that year, in Waldoboro, ME. My math teacher was without power for 3 months.

    I think about Robert Frost’s poem about being a “swinger of birches” everytime I see bent over trees or hear the phrase “ice storm”.

  • PamGrondin

    I was living in Farmingdale Maine and the road I lived on looks just like this picture. I first went to my Mothers to stay because she still had electricity. Then after a couple of days she lost her power so my Sister bought a generator. I had a small wood stove at my house so I would go cook what I could before it all ended up in the trash. This went on for over a week. I never want to go through that again.

  • SATZ

    Was without power in E Machias Maine for 8 days. Well the Power Companies Power. We were fine!

  • sharonlhpun

    I lived in Buxton, Maine at the time and our 2 acres was partly woods with large pines all around our property and surrounding the house. We lost power for 16 days and that meant no lights, no heat of any kind as that house did not have a fireplace or a woodstove, and no running water. My husband was doing some meager cooking in a cast iron skillet outside on a stand burner using a propane tank that luckily had some fuel left in it. For warmth, we all slept in the same room under piles of blankets including the dogs and cats. After about 8 days, my kids were able to get down to South Portland and stay with my sister who had power. Nothing was open. The Hannaford in Standish was closed so there was no way to get anything even IF you could get there. The roads in that part of Maine were covered with downed trees and lines. WE put some things out in the snow on the deck and they stayed frozen just fine out there. The temperature in the house got down to 36 degrees. By day 14, my husband’s Uncle was able to get us a generator to use and he was able to actually get to our house to bring it. My brothers brought some water at one point but barely made it up to the house. Trees were still falling for days and the roads were so treacherous. I still remember very clearly the day it all started. It seemed like any other ice storm. No big deal to born and bred Mainers(Mainahs) but then the ice just kept coming. I was very glad when my kids got home from school on the bus. They were very young at that time and at the local elementary school. The ice went on all through the night and then the first of the cracking and crashing could be heard. That was the scariest thing of all knowing all those trees were breaking and coming down and wondering if they would hit the house, and, if so, where? We did end up with a huge mess to clean and broken fencing but the house and garage were luckily spared. It was truly a storm for the ages.

  • Clarissa Crouse

    I remember this storm, I was living in Gorham maine at the time, it was awful.

  • Marlene Nason


  • TheEmperorIsStarkers

    I was an insurance adjuster working in Maine at the time. Never made so much overtime dough before or since.

  • Mary

    I was a half hour north of Watertown, NY when this happened. Our tiny town of Theresa had our entire power grid destroyed and we went a month without power. And, try as I might, with near sub-zero temps at night, I ended up losing water for an additional month.
    At night you’d hear the echo of trees breaking under the weight of the ice, and it was an eerie sound.
    But we made it through and everyone helped everyone else. So….2 months of hardship….and I literally want to laugh at those people who complain in other parts of the country when they’re out of power for a couple days. Really? Unless you’ve lived through this…or any of the heavy duty hurricanes (like Andrew and Katrina), I don’t want to hear it.
    And this is why I’m a neurotic winter prepper.

  • Madeleine Berube Buckley

    Like Nordalanche, I can remember the time as if it were yesterday. The freezing rain started on January 5th, and the next day, my husband’s birthday, our power went out. We live in a rural area and unlike Nordalanche, we did not have a wood stove. However our daughter and her family lived five minutes away and their power was still on, so they were kind enough to have us over for supper every day. Well that was for four days and then they, too, had no power, but did have a wood stove in the basement. They wanted us to go and stay over there, but I was adamant about staying at home. Both homes had a dog, two cats, and an iguana. I couldn’t imagine moving my animals over to their house. Two days later my daughter threatened to phone the township and have us removed from our home, as she worried about us. So my husband and I and all our pets went over to their house. I should mention that they had three children who had not been back to school after Christmas holidays, as that was when the ice storm began and the buses were not running. It didn’t take very long before it all was getting on my nerves….three unruly children and all the pets who didn’t get along. I begged my husband to bring us home.

    We did come home the following day, and one of the big box stores in Ottawa got a new shipment of generators. My husband went and bought one. Although it was a large piece of equipment, it was not powerful enough to run our ground source heat pump, so we still had no heat. My husband also bought two small heaters, and one of them ran full time over the iguana in his cage.

    There was no food left in the grocery stores, but the army was brought in and once a day we could go over to the arena where they were set up with dry goods. We would get what we could cook in an electric frying pan and that would be supper for that day. My husband went daily and got our gas can filled, as there was danger of running out of gasoline.

    In the evening we put our dog’s cage in our spare room where we also had a hide-a-bed. We put the small heater on for about two hours, with the door closed. When it was bedtime we slept in our clothes as well as our jackets and several pairs of socks, also gloves and a hat. And then we all went into that room to sleep, except for the iguana. The dog was happy in her cage and the two cats huddled down in the bed with us. We did not leave the heater on in the room for fear of it catching fire.

    On a couple of occasions workers from the township came down the road with their chainsaws to cut branches that had been pulled down by the ice. Just like Nordalanche, I remember so well the sound of the limbs and branches breaking under the weight, and yes, it did sound like a war zone. But it was so beautiful! The ice on the trees and lines was absolutely lovely…..picturesque.

    The time was very long however. We brought snow in and put it in the tub, so we could flush the toilet. One day we went to one our of son’s homes in Ottawa to do laundry and have a hot meal. Both were so appreciated.

    In all we were without power for 17 days. On Jan. 23rd a hydro crew man from Manitoba came to my door and told me he would be restoring my power within 15 minutes. I was so elated that I gave him a big hug.

    It’s strange how you take things for granted. It was quite an experience, but I would hope it was a once-in-a-lifetime happening. Quite often we talk about the Ice Storm of 1998, and I’m happy to say we survived it.

  • deimos19

    We lived in Auburn ME and had a large silver maple in our back yard. When the ice started to build on the branches, it began to sound like gunshots and eventually tore the tops of all the trees off. It took us a few weeks to clean up in our back yard. I was a letter carrier at the post office and was delivering in my neighborhood that first day the power went out. When I saw the street lights come on I ran home about 1/2 mile away only to find the power was restored to the local fire house and that was it. We went another 5 days without power but we had a kerosun heater, gas stove, and a small radio. We were the last people left in our neighborhood. I had to heat water on the stove to pour onto the door of the truck to get into it. I let it run until the windows were defrosted but realized I wasn’t going anywhere because the roads were impassable.

  • Laura Carpentier

    The most beautiful scenery in Québec. À lot of of awesome souvenirs for me. Family time around the fire, no school for weeks lol. One of the best winter for kid’s ever

  • Christina Bragan

    I lived in Greenfield, ME. I was 15 yes old. We raised and grew most of our own food. We did a lot of canning too. So we didn’t have to worry about that. I remember the ice was half way up the side of my mom’s car. We had to close most of the trailer so with blankets and the 5 of us stayed in the living room. Luckily we had a propane stove and a kerosene heater. I was unlucky though. I almost died from breathing in the fumes. (Everyone else was doing ok.) my mom had to take me through our back yard and my aunt’s horse pasture to get me away from our house. I got better at my aunt’s house. We didn’t get access to town for almost 2 weeks. Definitely a scary storm. Will be happy if I never see one like that again.

  • Steve Spence

    That’s a picture of Alabama in 1994 ….

    • Hank Whitsett

      never seen any roadside power poles lookin like that here in Maine…

      • Steve Spence

        Both the Alabama site and this site used a stock NOAA photo from the 40’s …..

  • runner81

    I remember the ice storm of 1998 so well. I was 16 years old and a sophomore in high school. We live in Maine, so we got hit pretty hard. The day it started, I remember barely even being able to walk on the roads because they were literally caked with ice. By the next day, we had lost power and we didn’t get it back for 3 or 4 days. Obviously, all schools in pretty much the entire state were closed during this time. We played board games by the fireplace to keep us entertained since we were going out of our minds with no power. By the last day without power, I’m pretty sure that we were going insane. I remember my mother and I trying to walk around the house while inside mummy style sleeping bags and we just looked at each other and started laughing hysterically because we looked so ridiculous. I’ll never forget that time!

  • Mary Wilkins

    Remember it well! We lost power for a week! Didn’t dare walk outside due to snapping and falling tree limbs. There would be a loud CRACK! and our head would be on a swivel to be sure we weren’t under it!

  • Bonita Greenham

    I had just finished hanging the wash on the clothes line when it started raining, we were without power for 8 days…it was warmer outside than it was in our house, my parents had no power for 13 days…we made a make shift fire outside for cooking and it took me a week to get the clothes off the line….hope it never happens again.

  • Lynne Dwyer

    Lived off the River Rd. In Durham, ME. Without power for 11 days. Out that way we couldn’t travel on the roads for three days unless an emergncy; and encourage d to first try to reach emergency services.

    • Seth Robinson

      Yup, I was in Gray, ME without power for exactly 11 days also.

      • Lynne Dwyer

        Yeah I was a payee for a guy lived in downtown Brunswick and on day 5 he called me complaining he had no cable. Oh no cable huh? It was a rough one guy. We made it though.

  • polly

    We lived on the Goshen road in winterport lost our power for two weeks, lived across from 4 big field’s you go out @ nite very quite except for all the branches breaking, not even hearing the coyotes, like we would hear every nite, many of them. We had a propane with a heater on it, it was a very small house, but still cold. It nite mare.

    • XiangDo

      I lived over on Stream Road with my 2 kids. An airtight wood stove in the cellar kept the house at 60° overnights, we cooked meals on top of it so ate as well as we normally would, and a borrowed generator I hooked up a few days in got us lights, refrigeration and let us run the oil furnace enough to have hot showers. The kids thought it was as much fun as camping! We were far more comfortable than most people who were in the city of Bangor at that time>

  • Janey04090

    I won’t ever forget it, I’m in Maine, we got slammed very hard and lost power for a few days. It was COLD.

  • GramMe06

    Short little article

  • Vermontist

    Live in Vermont and our house that usually lost power if a bird landed on the power line, didn’t even flicker during the ice storm in 98. Both sets of my grandparents that lived about 15 miles away, their power was out for days. Had 4 grandparents an Aunt and 2 dogs shacked up with us for nearly a week in our 2 bedroom home. Wouldn’t want to repeat the experience.

  • Jim Burnett

    That picture looks more like1908. Those are old telegraph lines, not power lines.

    • SpareMe

      I take it that you did not live in an area affected by it then…………

      • hellomew

        I did and I’ve definitely never seen power lines like this anywhere in my lifetime. The photo itself is incorrect and outdated.

    • Keith Berg

      I seem to recall seeing that before with the caption listing the date in 1949.

  • Was without power for three weeks! I remember sledding on it and you wouldn’t ever stop! 4 wheelers took place of snowmobiles because they could sit on top of the snow and not fall through.

  • Tonya

    I remember the ice storm of ’98 like it was yesterday. Woke up and the house was cold because the power went out during the night. Went outside to check on my neighbors and could hear the trees just snapping in the woods and following to the forest floor. Power lines coated with ice so thick you could barely see them and the freezing rain made the surface of the snow so strong you could walk on it without falling through. My husband and I packed up our three children all under the age of 10 and headed to Waterville to stay with a friend at her apartment. We pooled our resources and provided heat, light and food to 3 apartments for 2 plus weeks while we waited for the power to be repaired. Our wait was much shorter then others who lived in the more rural parts of central Maine. We were very happy when it was time to return home and so thankful for all the crews who worked endlessly throughout the days and nights to restore power and clear the roadways of debris.

  • Lynn Fleury

    Woke up during the middle of the night to transformers blowing up and trees breaking. We are in Northern NY. 15 mins from the Canadian border. We lived in the village and lost power so went to the family farm because they had a generator. Our home in the village got power back within a week because we were on the same grid as the hospital. The farm was without power for 3 weeks. Luckily they didn’t lose much milk due to having the genny! Spent great quality time with family! My car made the Malone Telegram while we were out getting groceries before the shelves were empty!

    • Linda

      I also lived right on the border, Ogdensburg NY. I remember in the middle of the night seeing the bright flashes from the transformers blowing up and hearing the branches cracking on the trees. I was alone and so scared. It was like a bomb had gone off when it was all done, so much devastation. Hope this never happens again so many people without power for weeks and weeks