25 Years Later: Remembering the Ice Storm of 1998
I somehow can't believe it's been 25 years since one of the biggest weather events this area has seen brought much of the state to a grinding halt, but it's true.
For those of us who experienced the Ice Storm of '98 here in Maine, it's an experience we'll likely never forget. (It's the reason that a lot of people insist on backup heat sources now, just in case.) For those of you who didn't, either because you weren't born yet, or were too young to remember it, or perhaps were somewhere else at the time, let me help put it into perspective for you.
Wikipedia actually has a dedicated entry on the event.
The North American Ice Storm of 1998 (also known as Great Ice Storm of 1998) was a massive combination of five smaller successive ice storms in January 1998 that struck a relatively narrow swath of land from eastern Ontario to southern Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in Canada, and bordering areas from northern New York to central Maine in the United States. It caused massive damage to trees and electrical infrastructure all over the area, leading to widespread long-term power outages. Millions were left in the dark for periods varying from days to several weeks, and in some instances, months.
For more than 80 hours, freezing rain and sleet fell across the Northeast, and coated everything...and I mean everything, in a thick layer of ice.
There was ice on the buildings.
There was ice on the cars.
And one of the most dangerous things about the ice was that it weighed down tree limbs and power lines everywhere!
The weight of the ice brought down lines and branches and sometimes entire trees all across the state...which ultimately led to thousands of Mainers (and folks in neighboring states and provinces, too) being left without power--some for weeks.
Power crews came from all over the U.S. to help get the lines up and running again. But for a few days, even they couldn't get to us because of the conditions.
This meant that schools everywhere, which were supposed to be starting up after the New Year, were either closed because they didn't have power, or had been turned into warming centers if they did.
If you were lucky enough to have a wood stove, or be one of the random houses that didn't have power, chances are, you were taking in friends and neighbors who were not that lucky.
Like many Mainers, my friend Soubanh Phanthay, who happens to also be the Deputy Mayor of Brewer, remembers the Ice Storm of '98 well.
"I was on Adams Street off of State Street Bangor."
Phanthay's family was one of the lucky ones, as they didn't lose their power. But as many families did during that time, the Phanthays opened their home to those who did.
"Mostly friends. One was pregnant and their house lost power and running water in Newburgh."
After the storm had passed through, Phanthay, who is also a photographer, went out and took some video to document the event.
"It was personal footage. I just remembered [thinking] that this was going to be a historic event someday and [I] was also tired of being cooped up in our one-bedroom apartment with seven people."
He got some great shots of power lines hanging low with the weight of the ice.
You can see just how low many of the branches ended up hanging down, too.
There's even some footage of the old Bangor Auditorium covered with huge icicles.
From what I remember of the Ice Storm, it was interesting.
I was home from college, on Christmas break. I remember everything being shut down. It was the first time in my memory that Bangor International Airport closed down for a bit and my flight back to Charleston, SC, where I was supposed to appear in a play that coming weekend, got canceled. Needless to say, the play had to be postponed, too.
My kid brother had a paper route in Orono, behind Pat's Pizza, and since the newspaper was one of the only things to still be up and running, my mom made my sister and I help him deliver the papers. It was so icy that you couldn't walk. So we scooted on our rear-ends, down the sidewalk of Mill Street and would drag the stacks of papers in a sled behind us.
We lost power for a few days, so my siblings and I ended up all sleeping in one big bed, under about six comforters. We had one battery-powered radio which we listened to, non-stop.
There was a local duo of radio announcers, who were themselves kind of snowed-in at their station, who started to air phone calls of folks who were in need (about to run out of food, or wood or diapers) who will put out over the airwaves the call for help, and then match them with folks who had resources or supplies and the means to get it to where it was needed. It was a pretty incredible thing to hear the airwaves being used for good like that. And it was that experience that led me to my career in radio.
One of the most memorable moments of the Ice Storm of 1998 came on the way to that airport, from my parents' house in Orono. My step-dad Phil and I hopped into our minivan. It had been several days since the storm had hit, but the power was still out to most of the area. As we made our way from Main St. in Orono onto the Kelley Rd., heading towards the highway, there was not a car in sight. There were no street lights. Only enormous snow and ice-covered branches on either side, lining the road like frozen sentinels. It looked almost post-apocalyptic.
What do you remember most about the storm?
Here are some home videos of some of the destruction done to the area.