Winter storm papers Ice Storm '98
Eugene L. Lecomte with Alan W. Pang and James W. Russell
ICLR Research Paper Series – No. 1
Starting late on January 4, 1998 and continuing for the next six days until January 10, 1998, freezing rain fell on eastern Ontario, southwestern Quebec, and southern New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. These areas were pelted with 80 millimetres or more of freezing rain. The event doubled the amount of precipitation experienced in any prior ice storm. The result: a catastrophe that produced the largest estimated insured loss ($1.44 billion Cdn) in the history of Canada. The combined Canadian and United States insured loss stands in excess of $1.2 billion U.S. or $1.75 billion Cdn as at October 1, 1998.
The same storm slashed across northern New York and parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine in the United States, leaving a vast trail of damage and destruction (approximately $200 million U.S. in insured losses). Nevertheless, the damage in the United States paled in contrast to that sustained in Canada. (See Figure 1 above.) In Canada, 28 deaths were attributable to the storm, while in the United States, 17 people lost their lives. According to Emergency Preparedness Canada, electric outages in the affected areas of Canada deprived 4.7 million people or 16 percent of the Canadian population of power. In the United States, there were 546,000 people without electricity. Thus, in both countries more than 5 million people were without power (heat, light and in many instances, water) in the cold of the mid-winter, which intensified the human suffering.
Ice Storm ’98 produced in excess of 840,000 insurance claims from policyholders in Canada and the U.S. That is 20 percent more claims than created by Hurricane Andrew, the largest natural disaster in the history of the United States.
The report that follows will focus on the catastrophic Canadian experience and can serve as a learning laboratory for insurance practitioners. It will seek to enhance their understanding of the causes of such events and ways by which the potential losses can be mitigated. It will assist the public in understanding these phenomena, examine the potential for future occurrences and appeal for the support of actions that will reduce human suffering, property damage and economic loss. The report will stress the benefits derived from a sharing of knowledge and call for the support of research where the common good will be served. Finally, it will encourage public-private partnership in those instances where that is the most efficient media for serving society. Among other questions, the report will address the following:
♦ Is it possible that changing climate patterns and rising global temperatures will produce more frequent and severe freezing events? ♦ Will the narrow band of territory from Ontario to Nova Scotia remain the primary region for future ice storms? ♦ Is there any causal relationship between Ice Storm ’98 and El Nino? ♦ Could an ice storm similar to that which paralyzed Montreal wreak havoc on Toronto, Boston, New York City, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Minneapolis and/or St. Paul? ♦ What property, lifeline, economic-consequential loss and infrastructure vulnerabilities did Ice Storm ’98 reveal? ♦ What steps can be readily and economically initiated to reduce and/or eliminate future human, property, consequential (business interruption and additional living expense) and economic losses? ♦ Has Ice Storm ’98 placed an additional emphasis on the need for: alternative energy sources? energy-efficient, loss reductive building materials? building construction practices?