Canadian Underwriter

Retrospective feature on Ice Storm ’98 available on ICLR website

January 4, 2013   by Canadian Underwriter

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The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) has released on its website a retrospective of the Eastern Canadian ice storm of 1998 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of what is the costliest insured natural catastrophe in Canadian history.

Ice storm

The ice storm that hit Quebec and Ontario cost more than $1.8 billion (figure adjusted for inflation). That dwarves the country’s next most expensive natural catastrophe, the 2011 wildfire in Slave Lake, Alta., which has estimated insured losses of $700 million.

ICLR reports that, at the time of Ice Storm 98, it took just five weeks to tally $602 million (1998 dollars) in claims for the ice storm – and claims still kept rolling in. 

When Canadian insurance claims were added to claims in the United States, the event broke the record for number of insurance claims generated from a single event. That record stood until Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

From late Jan. 4 to 10, 1998, freezing rain lashed eastern Ontario and southwestern Quebec before heading into Canada’s Atlantic provinces, notes a statement from ICLR. In Ontario, the storm dumped 85 mm of freezing rain on Ottawa, 73 mm on Kingston and 108 mm on Cornwall. In Quebec, 100 mm ravaged Montreal and parts of the province’s south shore.

By Jan. 18, 21 people in Quebec and four in Ontario had died. The death toll in Quebec included six reported cases of carbon monoxide poisoning; six cases of trauma, including people hit by snow plows and falling ice; five fire deaths; and four hypothermia deaths (another three people died in late January/early February while clearing snow and ice from rooftops). In Ontario, one of the four deaths involved a man who fell from a roof while clearing ice.

Power was fully restored, for all but 100 customers, by February 6.

Based on accumulation of ice, location and extent of the area affected and the duration of the event – the criteria that determine ice storm severity – the 1998 event was the worst to hit Canada in recent memory. “Previous major ice storms in the region, notably December 1986 in Ottawa and February 1961 in Montreal, deposited between 30 to 40 mm of ice – about half the thickness from Ice Storm 98,” notes information from the web feature.

The ice storm was also unusual because it went on for so long. ICLR reports that, on average, Ottawa and Montreal receive freezing precipitation 12 to 17 days a year, with each episode generally lasting a few hours. During Ice Storm 98, there was in excess of 80 hours of freezing rain and drizzle, nearly double the normal annual total.

Ice storm

The web feature contains a comprehensive look back at the storm, offering extensive information on the meteorological factors that came together to cause the disturbance; various immediate impacts of the storm; the engineering considerations and effects on the electrical grid in Ontario and Quebec; and the insurance and reinsurance aspects of the storm.

With regard to the last point, the feature offers some discussion of coverage issues and questions, including those relating to additional living expenses, business interruption and liability.

Photos: An eastern farmhouse on day five of the ice storm (top) and day one (bottom). (Credit: ICLR)