Verglas '98

Early Tuesday morning (January 6, 1998) I woke up to the sound fo freezing rain outside. My scanner was on and I heard that the first commuter trains were running about 10 minutes late. The CP RTC (dispatcher) was having problems with the signals. At 0645 a train got a clearance and almost immediately after that the power went off.

With the power off I decided to go downstairs and see what the weather was like and it didn't look encouraging with about an inch of ice on the front walk. With that I noticed that Dad had left the laptop running and went to turn it off. While I was doing that the power came on for about 30 seconds and then I was plunged back into darkness. Of course just as I turned off the laptop I noticed that the battery went dead.

After wandering around the house for a while I decided that since I couldn't do anything else I might as well start clearing the front walk. After about an hour I came back inside having completed the front walk and decided to leave the driveway for later.

Things didn't get better during the day and finally around 1600 or 1630 Dad and I went to Reno-Depot to get some salt and batteries. We got there to find the store under generator power. We found the salt and I got three bags. Next we headed for the batteries which we found in the middle of a mob scene. Once we left Reno-Depot I noticed that the salt seemed rather heavy and realized I got the 40 kg bags. Guess that will last a while! Fairview had power so we found some canned stew for dinner and headed home.

Once home we spread salt on the driveway and hoped that it might start to melt the ice. In the meantime, our neighbours were concerned about their car so they put it in our driveway. When I got inside I found that there was a message to call the assistant emergency co-ordinator for Radio Amateurs du Quebec. When I called him back I was told that Securite Civile had asked the amateur emergency folks to standby because they expected to need help. With that I phoned those I could think of who might be able to help. At this time I was told that it might be possible to lose telephone communications during the next few days.

Wednesday continued much the same with no word from Securite Civile except to standby. On Thursday evening I received a call asking if I could provide an operator to man a station at the Red Cross headquarters in Nun's Island. While there was a station at the Red Cross its status was unknown so I should send someone with his own equipment. Also I was asked that the operator get the Bureau des Mesures d'Urgence radio operational if it could be found.

I knew one operator, David, would be able to go down but being blind I wanted him to have some assistance. I also wanted someone who could bring his own equipment so I thought of Frank. Since neither could drive I had a problem. Listening to the amateur radio I heard Rob and asked him if he was going to work and he was, but not yet. I expelained that I was either looking for an operator or transportation for somone else. Rob offered to call his work to tell them he'd be late and then drive Dave and Frank to Nun's Island. This he did and Frank then set to getting the station operational. He got the amateur VHF station going and then couldn't get the Bureau des Mesures d'Urgences (BMU) radio going because he didn't have the antenna. He then discovered that he was using the BMU antenna for the amateur station. His own antenna would not work for the station because of where they were in the building. I informed Securite Civile of this and said that we'd continue working on the problem.

Friday morning I had to find a relief for Dave and Frank. I heard Andy on the radio and he agreed to go down. Eddie also called me and he agreed to head in. This was fine until early afternoon when the power went off at the Red Cross. I called Securite Civile to inform them of the problem and they told me to take a battery from a car if need be. I passed this along and while speaking to a friend (Fred) he thought he might have been able to help. It turns out that Fred learned that the Red Cross had been given a truck which had one or two generators in it so I asked Eddie to try to find it. Eddie told me that the Red Cross were working on it but either the truck was never found or the generators were appropriated to other purposes. In the mean time Andy had gone home to his house in Lasalle to get a hand held radio so that they could continue operating. On his return Andy got diverted off the highway by a fallen hydro wire and could not return to Nun's Island - the Champlain bridge had been closed and Andy had been turned back before the exit to Nun's Island. In the meantime the Red Cross got a battery out of a vehicle and the station was back on the air.

Well, at least the Red Cross station was back on the air. Next problem was to get some relief for Eddie. Dave was willing to go back and Masa had offered his services so I told them both to be prepared. Eddie arranged for Red Cross transport for the two of them to Nun's Island and the station was ready for the evening. The next morning, since Eddie had Frank's power supply (Frank had left it to power the radio) Eddie volunteered to drive Frank back to Nun's Island. During the day Frank reported that a generator had arrived but that the connecting cables were needed. These were eventually found and power restored to the building from the generator.

The storm carried on with Tuesday night being noisy with ice and branches falling around us and Wednesday was a day of adventure, and dangerous for those outside. The Thursday wave brought more trees and wires down and the number of Hydro Quebec customers without power reached a high of 1.4 million. The weather broke Friday night and Saturday was mostly bright and/or sunny. Hydro began to make serious progress with 900,000 out by Saturday night.

We were fortunate in that we got our power back at about 0820 on Sunday morning after 121.5 hours without. The house could finally warm up. At about 1600 we lost power for about five minutes and then again at about 1830 for two hours but at least the house was warming up. On Tuesday (January 13) we were in the dark for about five hours due to load shedding.

Staffing the Red Cross station was something of a problem and on Sunday I managed to get a spare battery and charger to the Red Cross station. Frank and Dave did the overnight shift on Sunday and I knew Frank wanted out on Monday - he'd been there for two days. On Monday I asked Rob to determine that power had been restored to Frank's home - it was. Now to find Frank's relief. I got a call from Guy who took his equipment over and relieved Frank. I got Rob to take Frank home and he was able to get a well deserved rest. Later Greg agreed to go down and then Stan so we had a surplus of operators.

I thought someone would leave! I kept saying that Stan and Greg could, but they stuck around to help. When Ed arrived at 1800 they were well and truly prepared for heavy operations - but there weren't any by this time. By about 1900 or 1930 Guy wanted to leave and eventually did. Since they hadn't passed any traffic since 0100 I asked Securite Civile if the station could be closed and was later given permission to close the station at 2200 hours January 12. With that Greg returned the Red Cross radio and the battery to the Red Cross and returned all of the other equipment to me. He dropped Dave off on his way and Stan and Ed who were still there also made their way home. Chapter one of my ice storm saga was ended.

Tuesday (January 13) was uneventful. Hydro made more progress and about 500,000 were without power Tuesday night. It was nice not to have the phone ring off the hook and people calling on the radio. Then Tuesday evening at about 2015 I got another call from Securite Civil. This time relief operators were needed for the efforts underway in Brownsburg. I put out the appeal on the radio and started phoning whomever I could find. It was like pulling teeth.

I got a call from Eddie who volunteered, then an American operator (Bruce) working in Montreal volunteered and then Don. I kept at it and reported the three I had. Since I couldn't get through on the radio I asked Frank to relay the message to the folks in Brownsburg. While he did that I found out that Roy, in Valleyfield, was heading up as well. Frank also said he'd rent a car and go up then finally Greg offered to go - now we had six operators. A.J. also volunteered and seven operators went to assist.

On January 14 the hydro situation was still fragile. Montreal is powered from a "ring" supply around the island which is fed by five different lines. All but one of these power feeds failed and it was hoped to have a second back between January 14 and January 17. Load shedding was the order of the day. Hydro asked everyone to conserve power and businesses were asked to remain closed if they were not essential. The universities and many schools closed for the week. Parts of downtown were closed off due to the danger of ice falling from buildings.

By Januray 18 life was starting to return to normal on the island of Montreal. North of here along the Ottawa River things were improving but around Grenville and Harrington there are many people without power. On January 18, I believe Grenville Township had about 50% power and 60% telephones restored but neither were yet stable. Hydro Quebec hoped to have power back to everyone by January 26. Even once they have the power restored they still have a huge job in permanently rebuilding the network in the "dark triangle".

Up until Wednasday (January 14) non-essential businesses had been asked to remain closed. We were also asked to conserve power as much as possible to prevent any failures of the very fragile network supplying Montreal with power. Thursday and Friday busnesses were able to open between 0900 and 1600 and we were all asked to conserve power between 0700 and 0900 and 1600 and 2100 which are the peak power consumption periods. It has been remarkable to see people respond to this request - none of us wanted to be the one responsible for blowing Montreal's power!

During the weekend stores could open normally and buusinesses could return to normal on Monday, January 19. Lots of folks were happy to see the restrictions lifted.

There was an interesting phenomenon - a locomotive used as a generator. Railway locomotives use a diesel engine to drive an electric generator and this power in many cases is AC. A 2000 horsepower CN locomotive was taken off the tracks in Boucherville and literally driven down the street to the Boucherville town hall. With the locomotive sitting on the street out front the generator is providiing power to the city offices. The locomotive is set to the third notch on the throttle which sets the engine speed such that it will provide 60 hertz power. At this speed it will generate about 500 horsepower or 375 kilowatts of power - enough for several buildings. There is a second locomotive parked on the street near the grade crossing which is held in reserve. It was supposed to be used to power the shelter further down the street but an intervining overpass which would not support the 260,000 pound locomotive ended that idea. Nonetheless this is an interesting way to solve a problem.

In an interesting discussion on the internet on this subject it was mentioned that on the Devco Railway on Cape Breton Island there are four locomotives specially designed to act as generators in an emergency. Emergency planners may, in the future, wish to look at these locomotives since they could be quite useful in large scale emergencies.

With a friend I went to Boucherville On January 17 to see this spectacle and met some other friends there. There were folks coming from as far as Sherbrooke to see the sight which is most unusual. It was fun to see folks having their pictures taken in front of the engine. There was a soldier in the cab at all times to make sure no one got too close to the electrical connections or otherwise got themselves in trouble. I doubt that anyone is likely to steal the locomotive!

On our way to Boucherville we saw, and on our way back we stopped to photograph some of the downed pylons. This is a truly awesome sight. It is humbling to see towers which are perhaps 30 feet at the base and 150 feet high turned into piles of spaghetti. I saw nine towers in a row all converted to scrap metal. Essentially they simply collapsed into themselves. What is most interesting is that beside the line where the pylons were down is another line where the wires came off one pylon. A crane was working to get the wires back on the pylon after which in a day or two power can be restored on the line (from what I saw). I'm sure the design engineers are going to have a close look at the differences in design of the two types of tower used (which are very simillar) to see how to prevent this in the future.

According to Hydro Quebec the towers are designed to withstard 45 mm of ice and some towers had up to 100 mm! It is no wonder there were problems.

CBM (The CBC AM Radio One outlet in Montreal) is back on 940 after losing their transmitter on Saturday evening. They immediately moved to the FM frequency and also activated their new 88.5 MHz transmitter to which they are slated to move on March or April 1. Falling ice damaged some components which match the transmitter to the antenna. That is now repaired and on January 19 they intend to return the FM transmitter (93.5 MHz) back to regular Radio Two programming. Radio One is starting to include more normal programming but they are still doing a lot of heavy local storm related programming.

At CJAD life is still hectic. Their four towers came down under up to a six inch coating of ice. They were off the air from 0515 Friday, January 9, until sometime Saturday when they were able to get the former CFMB transmitter on 1410 kHz operating. From about 0530 until 1200 CJAB was doing joint programming with CJFM (95.9 MHz) which is the FM side of Standard Broadcasting in Montreal. At noon CJFM returned to their regular programming except for hourly CJAD news broadcasts. CJAD returned to the air on 1410 kHz instead their usual 800 kHz sometime on Saturday. Since then they have been taking considerable flak from the listeners who felt that Standard Broadcasting put money ahead of public service. There are many ways in which this decision could have been explained, but the general manager simply said that they "had to protect their FM audience". Many listeners thus moved to CIQC (the former CFCF) and the CBC and found how good their coverage was. It will be some time yet, bufore CJAD recovers from this gaffe of Standard Broadcasting management - if they ever do. The next ratings will be interesting.

On March 29 it was announced on the International Radio Report on CKUT that the four CJAD transmitting towers are complete and testing is due to start shortly. Apparently CJAD is negotiating with CHRC in Quebec City to improve their transmitter pattern to cover some areas which were not covered before the towers came down.


Last modified March 29, 1998.