Friday, March 17, 2017

The calm after the storm - Blizzard 2017 vs 1971

The massive $25 million cleanup is underway in Montreal. Nearly 10,000km of roads need to be cleared of the 50cm of snow from the blizzard of 2017. (CTV News)
The list of impactful winter storms in Montreal and southern Quebec is way too long for this blog. The '98 ice storm certainly is the champion, there is no disputing that. Having said that, there are a few others that stand out. Each storm is different than the one before. What can be a disruptive and memorable storm for some, proves to be nothing but a nuisance for others. Often, it depends on your own experience as to whether or not a storm is memorable. As I have often written, I lean towards the 1971 storm, both from the science side and from my own personal experience.

The calm after the storm. Skies have cleared and milder temperatures are helping with the big clean-up. (ValleyWeather)

March 13-15 2017
Of the many snowstorms that have hit the city in the last 100 hundred years, three have stood out above all the others:  March 3-5, 1971, March 13-14, 1993 and December 27, 2012. You can now add a very respectful March 14-15, 2017 to the mix. The numbers from this week's storm are impressive to say the least. Total snowfall ranged between 40-80cm across southern Quebec. In Montreal, the bulk of the 40-50cm fell in less than 12 hours. A peak wind gust of 106km/h was recorded at Trudeau Airport, the strongest in March since the 1971 storm. Blizzard conditions were observed for 8 consecutive hours. Several highways were closed, littered with cars in some cases. A rash of major multi-vehicle accidents occurred. The Highway 13 fiasco will be talked about for decades to come. At least 8 fatalities are now being blamed on the storm. An entire generation of school kids had their first snow day ever, a very rare occurrence in Montreal these past few decades.

December 27, 2012 
In December 2012, Montreal recorded 45.6cm of snow in less than 24 hours, breaking the long standing record from 1971. The storm occurred during the holiday season, so the impact was minimal, as most people were already at home. The snow was extremely heavy, but the wind rather tame by winter-storm standards, less than 50km/h. At no point in 2012 were true blizzard conditions observed at Trudeau Airport. Roads were clear the next morning.

March 13-14, 1993
The March 1993 Superstorm was a powerhouse. The impact of this large winter storm was felt from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Circle. In southern Quebec, the storm arrived on Saturday evening into early Sunday morning. The timing offset the full impact of 41cm in less than 12 hours. Numerous roads were impassable, but only for a few hours. Wind speeds were in the 40 to 70km/h range. At no point were blizzard conditions reported at Trudeau Airport.

The 1971 "Storm of The Century" still stands out as the worst snowstorm to hit Montreal. The 43.2cm that fell on March 4, 1971 was driven by winds in excess of 100km/h. The blizzard closed the city for days. (Photo: Montreal Archives)

March 3-5, 1971
The March 3-5, 1971 "Storm of the Century" still ranks as the biggest snowstorm to strike the city. The amount of snow that was already on the ground in 1971, combined with unseasonable cold and relentless winds over 80km/h, produced a fierce blizzard in Montreal. Many roads closed, forcing commuters to stay in the city, packing downtown hotels. The storm dumped close to 50cm on Montreal over two days. True blizzard conditions were observed for almost 11 hours, including 5 consecutive hours with zero visibility. Widespread power outages occurred. The city came to an abrupt halt for nearly three days. The Montreal Canadiens had to cancel a game, the one and only time ever due to weather. Drifts were over 6 feet high, with 30 fatalities attributed to the storm.

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