‘We saw the perfect storm’: Lessons learned from Manitoba’s Thanksgiving blizzard one year later

WINNIPEG — One year ago this Thanksgiving weekend Manitobans woke up to a blizzard. Snow, sleet and ice buried the province following a winter storm that left thousands without power – prompting Manitoba Hydro to launch a massive effort to get the lights back on for Manitobans.

Looking back – the Crown corporation says it has learned some lessons from the storm, and will be better prepared should Mother Nature pack another punch.

Manitobans woke up to snow, rain and slushy streets on Oct. 10. The snow kept falling, and by the end of the night, about 24,000 people were without power. Before the storm was done – the number of people left in the dark would grow to more than 160,000.

Heavy snow and fierce winds wreaked havoc on the province, bringing down 1,000 kilometres of power lines and snapping around 4,000 poles.

READ MORE: ‘The worst was yet to come’: The impact the 2019 October storm had on Winnipeg’s tree canopy

Both the Province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg declared states of emergencies, and The Red Cross said more than 5,700 people evacuated from Manitoba First Nations.

“This storm we all saw last Thanksgiving impacted thousands of people during the holiday weekend,” said Bruce Owen, the media relations officer for Manitoba Hydro.

“It caused us to respond in a way that utilities – in the history of utilities in Manitoba – have never responded to ever before.”

Manitoba Hydro launched a massive emergency response effort, with more than 1,100 people working in the field to repair lines and get the power back on for Manitobans.

2019 Thanksgiving storm

(Source: Manitoba Hydro)

Crews from Ontario, Saskatchewan and Minnesota came to Manitoba to help. This was the first time Manitoba had to enact its mutual aid agreements with neighbouring utilities, Owen said.

It was a full two weeks before the final communities who lost power were able to turn the lights back on, and even then, communities including Little Saskatchewan First Nation, Last St. Martin First Nation and Dauphin River were being powered by large diesel generators.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE ‘PERFECT STORM’

“We saw the perfect storm happen last Thanksgiving, but that is not to say that there could be another one and it could happen at any time, so what do we need to do to plan and prepare,” Owen said.

2019 Thanksgiving storm

(Source: Manitoba Hydro)

In the year since the storm, Hydro has had an internal report completed to find ways the Crown corporation could improve its response, should another storm hit Manitoba.

Owen said the report includes recommendations including redesigning or relocating Hydro towers to be able to withstand heavy winds and snow.

He said it recommended having more satellite phones available if cellphone towers go down, and added Hydro is in the process of replacing its two-wheel drive vehicles with four-wheel drive.

“It allows us to get to places a little bit more quickly when there is a lot of snow on the road and the conditions are horrible – that’s part of the planning process,” he said.

2019 Thanksgiving storm

(Source: Manitoba Hydro)

Manitoba Hydro estimates the cost of the storm to be $100 million, though the final cost won’t be known until the final bills from the storm roll in over the next several months.

READ MORE: Hydro estimates cost of Manitoba snow storm over $100 million

“You’ve seen the price tag for the thanksgiving storm of last year – it’s extremely expensive,” Owen said, adding the province and the Crown corporation have been looking at ways to lower the cost of any future storms.

“Again you are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and Mother Nature – as we’ve seen – can pack a wallop.”

HOW MANITOBANS SHOULD PREPARE FOR THE NEXT STORM

Last year’s storm was unprecedented – Owen said in the past hundred years Manitoba Hydro has never seen a storm cause that much damage, but he said it could happen again.

“We just don’t know – as with flooding, as with these winter storms, the severe weather patterns that we seem to be experiencing, it is quite conceivable that we may see something like it again if not worse.”

2019 Thanksgiving storm

(Source: Manitoba Hydro)

He said Manitobans should have a plan for what to do should the province be hit with another storm that knocks out power.

Manitoba Hydro says people should have flashlights and extra batteries ready to go, along with a portable radio and a charger for a cellphone.

“If there is another extended outage that we saw last year, have a plan for yourself and your family so that you are safe, so that you are warm, so that you’re eating, and so that everybody’s safe.”

More tips on how to prepare for a power outage can be found online.

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