Eastern Canadian Blizzard of March 1971

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Eastern Canadian Blizzard of March 1971
Tempête du siècle 1971.png
Snow accumulations from 3rd to 5th of March
Type Nor'easter/Atlantic Ocean coastal low
Formed March 3, 1971
Dissipated March 5, 1971
Lowest pressure 966 mb
Maximum snowfall or ice accretion 32.1 inches of snow (80 cm) in Mont Apica, Quebec 1
Damage at least $1 million
Fatalities at least 30 2
Areas affected Eastern North America

The Eastern Canadian Blizzard of March 1971 was a severe winter storm that struck portions of eastern Canada from March 3 to March 5, 1971. The storm was also nicknamed the "Storm of the Century" in Quebeccitation needed. The event included the worst 24-hour snowfall on record in the city of Montreal with 43 centimetres (16.9 in) of snow falling on March 4, for a total of 47 centimetres (18.5 in), until the one-day record was broken again on December 27, 2012.3 Higher terrain in eastern Quebec received as much as 80 centimetres (31.5 in). Heavy snowfall was also recorded in eastern Ontario and northern New Brunswick as well as parts of the Northeastern United States. The storm itself was responsible for the deaths of 17 people in Montreal (30 province-wide) along with numerous other injuries directly and indirectly attributed to the blizzard.

Blizzard event

A coastal low pressure system, called a Nor'easter developed across the coastal United States late on March 3, 1971. The system rapidly intensified as it moved towards the Northeast United States as well as Quebec and eastern Ontario. The storm center had a rapid pressure drop to 966 millibars while it was centered over New York before moving across New Brunswick exiting the province of Quebec during the morning of March 5.1

Snow started across most of the affected areas on March 3 with the peak of the storm during most of the day on March 4 where for a period of up to 17 hours there was at least moderate snow and blowing snow in Montreal. Visibility was also significantly reduced for nearly 24 hours. The 47 centimetres (18.5 in) received makes it one of the heaviest snowfalls on records for Montreal with the 43 centimetres (16.9 in) received on March 4 being the snowiest day on record.14

Elsewhere across Quebec, 80 centimetres (31.5 in) of snow fell in the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve north of Quebec City while 65 centimetres (25.6 in) to 75 centimetres (29.5 in) of snow fell locally in the Gaspésie, Bas-Saint-Laurent and Eastern Townships regions south of the Saint Lawrence River. Up to 40 centimetres (15.7 in) fell in the Ottawa and Quebec City regions.1 The heavy snow was accompanied by damaging wind gusts of near hurricane-force, which created snowdrifts of up to two stories high in some places. Widespread power outages were reported and some were left without power for up to ten days. The city of Montreal was left paralyzed following the storm for a few days. Bus service was stopped and snowmobiles were the easiest transportation option possible throughout the city while bridges and roads were completely shut down. For the first time in over 50 years a Montreal Canadiens National Hockey League game at the Montreal Forum was postponed.5 17 people were killed in Montreal while there were several other injuries related to the storm. Fatalities were resulted by heart attacks or people stuck inside stranded vehicles. At least 2 people were killed in the Quebec City region and at least 30 fatalities were reported province-wide. It took at least 36 hours to clean up the worst of the storm and to resume regular traffic although snow clearing operations lasted for several days.26 Initial damage estimates were at about $1 million (1971 dollars) for central Quebec including 50 homes that received roof damage. Businesses also sustained window damage some due to flying debris particularly in the Limoilou area of Quebec City.7


Historical perspective

The 1970-1971 winter season was the worst on record for many areas of eastern Ontario and southern Quebec in terms of all-time snowfall records. Ottawa had received up to 444 centimeters of snow (177.6 inches) that year and Montreal just over 380 centimeters (152 inches), records that were nearly broken during the 2007-08 season when Ottawa received 436 centimeters (174.4 inches) and Montreal 375 centimeters (150 inches). Quebec City also had their worst season in 1970-71 with 460 centimeters (184 inches) before it was broken in 2007-08 when just over 500 centimeters (200 inches) fell.8910

Storms in December 1969 left 58 centimeters (23.2 inches) in three days across the city making that event the most significant snowfall event from one system. Other systems in 1954, 1955 and 2001 had higher total snowfalls for a single event making the 1971 even the fifth heaviest single-event snowfall.

The record snowfall may have been a contributing factor for a deadly mudslide in the town of Saint-Jean-Vianney in May 1971 when heavy rains combined with already saturated grounds because of heavy melting snow formed a large sinkhole of about 600 meters wide and 30 meters deep. 31 people were killed by the mudslide.6

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