What is an Ice Storm?

wiseGEEK Writer

An ice storm occurs when frozen rain or hail blankets a region. Not only do roads freeze, but also ice coats trees, bushes and power lines. Because of the weight of the ice, this type of storm can cause tremendous damage to an area, pulling down trees and power lines. A few past ice storms have caused farmers to lose entire crops or power to be lost for many days.

Ice can coat trees and other objects during an ice storm.
Ice can coat trees and other objects during an ice storm.

Typically, an ice storm occurs when the ground temperature is below freezing 32 F (0 C). Above ground, the temperature is close to freezing. These storms are common in areas where one doesn’t see a lot of snow, because they don’t require the same degree of cold that would produce snow.

Ice storms may cause excessive damage to an area.
Ice storms may cause excessive damage to an area.

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However, an ice storm can also affect areas that do get snow yearly. In 1998, such a storm hit Northern New York, and parts of Eastern Canada. It was immensely destructive, damaging numerous maple trees in Canada that are relied upon for the maple sugar industry. It also caused power loss for many people, about three million. Many did not have power restored for up to six weeks.

An ice storm causes very hazardous road conditions.
An ice storm causes very hazardous road conditions.

This ice storm and others are more challenging than snowstorms because they can destroy so much with a relatively small amount of ice. Generally to be defined as an ice storm, one quarter of an inch of ice (.635 cm) must fall. A quarter of an inch of snow, conversely, tends to be much easier to manage, even in regions where snow is uncommon.

Roads become perilous to drive upon because they are frozen. People lose power, crops, and trees can be pulled down. People can and have died because of limited access to driving, and thus to medical facilities, or because they may not have inadequate heating systems in their homes or emergency generators.

The 1998 storm in New York and Canada caused about 3 million US dollars (USD) worth of damage. Loss of work days and stalled business can be incalculable. Other storms have resulted in even greater financial damage. The president of the US declared parts of Kansas a disaster zone after it was hit by an ice storm in 2005. At least 39 million USD of estimated damage occurred.

Ice storms can create extreme hazards for drivers.
Ice storms can create extreme hazards for drivers.

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Discussion Comments


an ice storm has as much to do with hail as a rain cloud does to a dust cloud. hail is produced when rain droplets typically during the spring and summer months, are drawn up into large thunderstorms by the updrafts. the updrafts lift the rain to such a height that it then turns to ice. the stronger the storm, the more this process is repeated and larger the stone will become.

In 1979 in fort collins, colorado, the only fatality occurred when a stone the size of a grapefruit hit an infant as her mother rushed into a nearby mall for cover. an ice storm is rain that turns to ice on contact with the ground. as described herein, a hail storm drops hail which is already in the form of ice which hits the ground as ice, not freezing rain, which occurs during the cold months of the year, opposite of when hail storms occur.


can you help us with our project? Are hail storms more powerful than ice storms? Please post this so i can have an answer! i know it's silly but my question is important to me!


dude, this is good info. i am doing a report and it helped a lot! could you post some more info to help me out. Thanks.


I live in Western NY and the "big" ice storm occurred in 1991 not 1998. We had another ice storm in 2003, though not as significant

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