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The ice storm of 1998 96ed3899

Flashback: The Ice Storm of 1998

Freezing rain is no fun. It’s impossible to shovel, dangerous to drive in, and the kids can’t even play in it. 23 years ago, Maine endured one of its most horrifying natural disasters during what we now call The Ice Storm of 1998. For three days, Maine was pelted with freezing rain that coated the entire state in a destructive layer of ice and put us in a state of emergency.

What Happened

On January 5 of 1998, it began to rain. Shortly after, temperatures plummeted to single digits, and that precipitation turned into freezing rain, not an unusual occurrence, but this didn’t stop for three days. By January 8, nearly half a million Mainers were out of power. Central Maine Power estimated that 2,000 utility poles, 2-3 million feet of power lines, and 5,250 transformers needed to be replaced.

Some people went without power for three weeks or more. The roads were too dangerous for school buses, and, in an era without Zoom, kids were given two weeks off from school on top of their winter break. The most tragic consequence of this disaster, however, is the lives that were lost. Six people died because of the ice storm from causes such as hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, and being struck by falling objects.

Coming Together

Mainers have a reputation for being hardy people, and that resilience shined bright in the aftermath of the storm. Neighbors were checking in on each other, and people were bringing coffee and baked goods to the CMP workers trying desperately to return power to the state. 

Cellphones were not commonplace in 1998, so 103.9 FM. WVOM, “The Voice of Maine,” became an essential lifeline to many. The hosts worked around the clock to take calls from Mainers who needed help, information, and or simply wanted to share their experience. Unfortunately, their transmitter lost power during the storm. Knowing how important the radio station could be to those in need, a scallop diver named Daniel Placzek personally hauled propane tanks up the mountain to the transmitter. He even made the dangerous climb up the tower to chip away the accumulating ice. With the assistance of electrician David Cox, they managed to get the radio station running again.

Send in the Cavalry

Maine desperately needed more bucket trucks to help get the power lines working in a timely manner. After Governor Angus King declared a state of emergency, a surplus of the vehicles was found in North Carolina. The trucks, as well as hundreds of workers, were flown to Maine.

The assistance of the North Carolina utility workers was much appreciated, but it became very apparent when they showed up in lightly lined jackets that they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. LL Bean graciously donated proper gear for the traveling workers so they could perform their jobs safely. After three weeks and a whopping $320 million, Maine was up and running again.

Staying Safe

Growing up in Maine prepares you for all the harsh storms our state endures, but those new to the area may be surprised and how brutal our weather can be. To stay safe during Maine winters, always keep your eyes on the weather report and look out for winter storm warnings or blizzard warnings. If a storm is coming, keep your home stocked with emergency supplies and consider purchasing emergency heating equipment. If you cannot avoid traveling, make sure your vehicle has its own stash of emergency supplies and check the tread on your tires.

-Written by Stacy Oswald & Photo By Jonathan Kemper