Wednesday, January 1, 2014


As many of you may know, on the weekend before Christmas, Toronto (and much of Eastern Canada) was hit by an Ice Storm. Not as outrightly violent as it sounds, an ice storm doesn't actually involve large chunks of ice being flung around by high velocity winds. Instead, it's the result of several days of rain falling in subzero temperatures, solidifying on contact. When this happens over several days, as it did in Toronto, the results are absolutely stunning. A world encased in a thick layer of shimmering ice. Unfortunately, the results are just as devastating as they are incredible.

Ice forming on the trees and signposts of downtown Toronto on the evening of Sunday Dec 22nd, 24hours in.
As all of our power lines are underground and the heat generated by the buildings prevented too much of the ice from freezing, the the downtown core was hit much less hard by the storm than were the suburbs, where the lines are exposed. Down here, our primary concern became, not surviving subzero temperatures without power or heat, but avoiding the massive sheets of ice falling off skyscraper windows as they got too heavy to stay - utterly terrifying, but not lethal if you stayed out of the financial district. With roads becoming progressively more passable, though slowgoing with many of the lights still out and some trees still down on the streets, I decided to head out Scarborough-way on the Tuesday for some Christmas Eve cookie deliveries to friends and family in some of the regions hardest hit. I also took the opportunity to head into the Rouge Valley for a short, but stunning - and spectacularly cold - hike. Below are some of the pictures I managed to snap in between staring around me in awe and trying to keep my hands from freezing off.

Icicles on a tree in Toronto's Rouge Valley, 3 days after the storm.

Flash frozen field buds.

Not even the conifers were immune.

Perhaps one of my favourite pictures from my hike, flash frozen wild berries 3 days in.
By the time I made my way out that way, over 48 hours after the storm had ended, approximately 200,000 households were still without power, down from a peak of 300,000 on the Sunday, and the devastation wrought by the storm was still clearly visible - tree limbs littering lawns and lying on houses and cars, whole neighbourhoods frozen in without heat or power and everything encrusted. Night was probably eeriest, with everything entirely blacked out and no way to determine what was ahead of you.
Tree limbs litter the street outside my old house. This was nowhere near the worst I saw. Many of the limbs landed on houses, cars and power lines - the latter causing fires. Nothing brings home the subtle power of nature like a massive tree split directly in half by rain.

As temperatures fell to lower than -16 C, many people were left scrambling to find ways to stay warm and cook their food. Those with old fashioned fireplaces certainly lucked out in this regard. Unfortunately, with approximately 45,000 households still without power on Boxing Day (day 5 without), the absence of these in many newer homes resulted in a smattering of deaths across the city from fires and carbon monoxide poisoning as people brought their barbecues inside in an attempt to keep warm.

To give some perspective, the population of Toronto is estimated to lie around 2.7 million, and each household is estimated to hold an average of 2.5 people. This means that, at the peak, more than 1/4 of the city's population was without power.

Bent, but not broken, young trees bowing under the weight of all of the ice.
While the effects of the ice storm could easily have 'ruined Christmas', and they were certainly devastating, ruining many peoples' Christmas plans, one of the nicest things to see was how so many neighbours, friends, families, and even strangers, came together to help each other weather the storm. A big thank you! to all of the hydro workers from Toronto and the surrounding districts who worked tirelessly throughout their holidays to restore service. As of today, 10 days after the storm, almost everyone is back in their homes and only 100 people are still without power (many because of tree limbs and power lines falling after the ice had melted). Overall, I think the city weathered the storm pretty well. It's always good to remember, however, just how powerful Mother Nature can be. So, with 2013 at an end and 2014 just beginning, I want to encourage you all to be prepared and wish you all a Very Happy New Year! 

An icy sunset outside my grandparents' house. 
Here's to putting to rest what was an awesome 2013 and welcoming a (hopefully even more amazing) 2014! Love to you all!

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