If the storm of the century hit tomorrow, would you be ready?

By Marie-Lyse Paquin, Canadian Red Cross
A man walking down a snow-covered road after a bad storm in QuebecFifty years ago, on March 4, 1971, part of Quebec was paralyzed by the ‘storm of the century’. Although several other powerful storms occurred in the 20th century, including the very memorable 1998 ice storm, the 1971 storm took the title due to a particularly intense mix of harsh conditions: heavy snowfall with winds of more than 100 km/h creating blowing-snow, cutting visibility to zero for several hours.
As a result, the roads and sidewalks were impassable, bridges and airports were closed, and drivers abandoned their cars. Many people were unable to get home from work and camped at the office or on the floor of the bus. Since emergency services were struggling to get around, snowmobilers were called in to help the police and paramedics take patients to the hospital, hand out food, or rescue drivers who were trapped in their cars.

A few Canadian historical storms

Every part of the country has memorable snowstorms that took days - if not weeks - to recover.
Atlantic Canada
On January 18, 2020, “Snowmageddon”  brought high winds and heavy snowfall to Atlantic Canada. St. John's recorded more than 76 cm of snow, breaking the city's all-time single-day snowfall record, while Mount Pearl had 93 cm of snow. As a result of this blizzard, 21,000 homes were left without power and a state of emergency was declared across Newfoundland, banning all road travel except for emergencies. 
New Brunswick
From January 24-26, 2017, a pressure system along the Eastern seaboard brought snow, rain, freezing rain, and ice pellets to the entire province of New Brunswick. The massive Ice Storm left more than 133,000 homes and businesses without electricity or heat, in some cases for up to two weeks. The Canadian Red Cross worked closely with the New Brunswick Department of Public Safety, municipalities, and other partners to help the hardest-hit areas.
Nova Scotia
Five months after the devastation of Hurricane Juan, the blizzard of February 18-19, 2004, dubbed "White Juan", dumped 50 to 70 cm of snow on Nova Scotia, paralyzing the province and forcing a state of emergency to be declared. Visibility dropped to near zero as heavy snow was whipped by winds of 60 to 80 km/h, gusting to 120 km/h in some areas.
In December 2013, a storm complex, which made its way up through the U.S. to Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic regions, brought a nasty mix of snow and rain, leaving blankets of ice over everything, and causing trees to fall and power lines to go out. At the height of the “2013 Ice Storm”, there was more than 600,000 power outages which lasted approximately five days.
An unprecedented winter storm hit Winnipeg from October 9-13, 2019, just ahead of Thanksgiving. More than 50,000 residents were left without power and tens of thousands of trees were damaged; 2,600 storm-related calls were made to 911, double the typical call volume. Clean up from the storm lasted until January 2020.
One of the worst storms in Saskatchewan history hit on January 10, 2007. The blizzard brought the city of Saskatoon to a standstill. Hotels were filled with stranded travellers and city residents unable to reach their homes. Some resorted to taking refuge overnight in businesses such as Costco. Sadly, there were also two fatalities.
On September 7, 2014, Calgarians were enjoying a balmy 25-degree Sunday when they received a surprise snowfall warning for the following day. On Monday, in what was to be known as ‘Snowtember’, snow began falling across the city and continued for three days, dumping more than 40 cm in parts of the city. The wet, heavy snow caused trees, still in full leaf, to fall onto power lines, cutting power to 74,000 homes and businesses.
British Columbia
The 1996 snowstorm, dubbed by Environment Canada as the “Snow Storm of the Century”, resulted in 65 cm of snow on Dec. 29, 1996, adding to 124 cm accumulated in Victoria in December. Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island were virtually shut down. Cars were buried under several feet of snow, and people were stuck highways up to 17 hours. Families skied in the streets, and the army was called in to help with snow removal.

Moral of the story

A woman covering her head during a great snow storm in Quebec in the 1970s 
The 1971 storm in Québec claimed about 30 lives, including 17 in Montreal alone, not to mention the many people who were injured. While a few people lost their lives in traffic accidents or were trapped in their cars, most of the fatalities were due to heart attacks, especially while shovelling. These statistics are a good reminder of why it’s important to take a first aid and CPR course to save lives.
In short, big storms aren’t just something that happened in the old days! This is why we recommend keeping an emergency kit at home and in your car at all times.

A few tips for getting through a storm:
  • Stay tuned for instructions from the authorities: listen to the radio, watch the local news and/or follow emergency services and local news on social media.
  • Avoid outings or travel unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you need to go out in the storm, dress warmly to protect yourself. Be on the lookout for warning signs of frostbite and hypothermia. 
  • Keep your pets indoors and set up a comfortable place for your other animals to ride out the storm.
  • Avoid over-exerting yourself and don’t work outdoors for long periods of time.
Ensure you are ready for any emergency - see our tips for what to do before, during and after a winter storm.
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