Spring Ice Storm 2013

Did you ever see the movie “The Ice Storm?” It had less to do with ice storms and more to do with those crazy 1970’s and what our parents were all up to. But I digress.

We had an ice storm here last Friday, April 12. In March, 2012 the temperature was 20°C (70°F) for two weeks. All the trees broke bud, and then many got damaged when the cold weather returned. This year, the winter seems reluctant to go away. Now, I have to admit I don’t mind, because I’m still finishing next year’s firewood and have a whack of jobs around the property that don’t require warm weather, so frankly I find I can accomplish way more when it’s cool. The ground is still frozen in many places so I can’t turn over the gardens, even if I wanted to.


In January 1998, 6 months before we bought this place, there was a huge ice storm that left millions without power for days or weeks. Last week’s ice storm left lots of people around us without electricity again, many for 2 or more days. I’ve been through ice storms before, but this was the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime. Our area was hit extremely hard and there was a lot of damage. We had a lot of trees come down and tons of branches break off.


It was quite windy in the morning but the wind turbine had become iced up over night and so we didn’t get any “juice” from it. Nothing makes me more paranoid than seeing my wind turbine on a tilt-up galvanized steel tower held up with guy wires, rated at a certain weight and load, that is now covered with a quarter inch of ice. Yikes! It’s still standing though, as a testament to my engineering prowess (but more likely sheer luck, I think).


It’s a very bizarre experience to stand outside your house and hear the endless “cracks” as branches break off, then the “shattering glass” sound as the ice on the branch hits everything on the way down, taking more ice with it. It’s just brutal.


As I sat in the office late in the afternoon a huge poplar came crashing down outside the guesthouse. It just missed hitting my garlic drying racks, which would have really annoyed me if it had hit them. The weird thing is that the tree had basically fallen over, and its roots had been pulled out of the ground. That has never happened here. Poplars are a crappy tree and will break off at the hint of ice or big wind. But this time the tree had fallen over from the weight of the ice. I was talking to my neighbor who has been here much longer than I have and he had 3 poplars come down the same way. He said he’d never seen that before.


So in pursuit of my climate change confirmation bias, I found this article from National Geographic which suggests that scientists believe that the additional warmth in the arctic and lack of sea ice, exacerbated with more exposed dark water, is pushing that nice warm jet stream further south, causing us to experience a cool spring in the north and more erratic weather.


I hope ice storms are not the new norm, certainly not in April. I heat with wood, and the trees that came down won’t go to waste, but to see so many with damaged leaders, and lost limbs, well, it’s pretty brutal. Apparently nature can have a real attitude.

6 Responses to “Spring Ice Storm 2013”

  • Yes, that’s a lot of heavy ice. During the ’98 Ice Storm, it freezing-rained here in Eastern Ontario like last Friday….. for 6 days (day and night) with tree branches and ice crashing down all around us every 10 minutes. Our power was out for over 2 weeks. Not too bad for us as we heat and cook with wood. At least during last Friday’s ice storm, it was daylight until 8 p.m. and it melted pretty quickly!
    P.S. no fights at our community center either.

  • Lawrence Walker:

    In Manitoba we’re used to cold, but this is the worst ever. I lived in eastern canada most of my adult life but my 86 year-old sister agrees that this is the worst winter for cold in her memory. From the middle of October on it has been below zero and lately edging above zero for the high. Last year was perhaps the warmest on record. Of course cold temperature also tends to produce snow, depending on atmospheric water content, and the likely-hood of floods has become a major concern. So the snow is slowly melting or perhaps dumping more with the low temperature. My heating costs have been astronomical. That means a late spring planting and with the short summers here, a not encouraging situation for gardening. Likely more important will be the farmer’s plight, with less time for grain maturation, and low grass-yield for those maintaining cattle. That of course will affect store prices, especially with the convergence of corporate agribusiness and gigantic food suppliers. City-dwellers can expect high food-prices while the farmers will get little return because of the dominance of agribusiness conglomerates. Perhaps some farmers selling locally will benefit against the merchandising behemoths, but until the return of local flour milling, slaughter-houses, milk and egg co-operatives, and open markets, the general public will be gourged. And of course giant agribusiness is rapidly gobbling up all arable land, supported by governments. This to me is as important as most of the ecological initiatives.

  • Good luck Gerrit!

  • Jennifer:

    I live in Victoria, BC, and even we had a downpour of freezing rain pellets this past Saturday. It has been uncommonly cold here this spring.

  • Gerrit:

    Yup, and it’s only going to get worse. BTW, think positive thoughts for us; on Saturday we’re going to look at a small organic farm between Barry’s Bay and Eganville and hope to be retired by fall and futzing around starting a sustainable off-grip permaculture farm.

  • Neil B. (Orleans):

    Good luck Cam. Seeing your pictures certainly brings back memories of the 98 Ice Storm.

    In 1998, our house in Ottawa was without power for only 3 hours. However, my brother’s dairy farm, in Maxville Ontario, was without power for 19 days (another farm had 21 days with no power). My brother had a big generator, run by tractor that powered their farm. They had 2 other families live with them during that time. The other interesting facts about Maxville is that they had the most ice (100 mm /> 3.5 inches)of any town or village in Eastern Ontario. Montreal was the only other place that had such significant amounts of ice (where huge hydro towers crashed with the weight of the ice).
    In all the shelters and community centres that were setup across Eastern Ontario, Maxville’s Community Centre was the only place where a fight didn’t break out. Very community oriented place.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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