Expert: 25 years later, Quebec remembers ice storm that plunged province into darkness

Published: 6 January 2023

Twenty-five years ago, the rain began in what would become the 1998 ice storm that eventually left millions of Quebecers in the dark, some for over a month. It was one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history, and many still have vivid memories of those cold and difficult days and nights. (CTV News

Here is an expert from McGill University who can comment on this topic: 

Suzanne King, Full Professor (Retired), Department of Psychiatry 

“This week marks the 25th anniversary of the ice storm crisis in Quebec, and the anniversary of the beginning of Project Ice Storm, the first study of women pregnant during a natural disaster that evaluated the mothers’ stress levels and then followed their children’s development for nearly two decades. The research team found significant associations between the women’s hardship from the ice storm (e.g., the number of days without electricity) and the children’s physical development: their risk for obesity, diabetes, allergies and asthma, as well as measures of epigenetics. Some recent findings include:  

  • The effects of the severity of maternal stress (e.g., days without power) on their children’s brain development and behavior are still evident at age 19.   

  • There are small but significant associations between the severity of maternal stress from natural disasters and child development.  

  • Analyses of several years of RAMQ data have found no major effects of exposure to the Quebec ice storm during pregnancy on child outcomes in the population of the Montérégie region; it appears one must determine each woman’s experience and reactions to the ice storm to see these effects.   

  • I have struggled over the years about how to inform women about the effects of prenatal maternal stress without stressing them further. Recently, my team has investigated the level of knowledge among child-bearing women and gives them a “B” grade, but also found that about 65% wish they had known more about the topic during their last pregnancy.”

Suzanne King is a Full Professor (Retired) in the Department of Psychiatry, as well as a Principal Investigator at the Douglas Research Centre. Her work focuses on fives prospective longitudinal studies of children who were exposed to maternal stress in utero as the result of a natural disaster: the Quebec ice storm of 1998; Iowa floods of 2008; Queensland floods in Australia in 2011; the 2016 wildfires in Fort McMurray; and the flooding in Houston following the 2017 Hurricane Harvey. She is also currently involved in two studies of prenatal stress from COVID-19 in Canada and Australia.

suzanne.king [at] (English, French) 

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