Manitoba

Blizzard that led to Flood of the Century started this day in 1997

On April 5, 1997, a spring snowfall began, then intensified with strong winds that impeded visibility. Over the next 24 hours, the storm dropped as much as 50 centimetres of snow on the Red River Valley (48 cm in Winnipeg).

Storm dropped as much as 50 cm of snow on Red River Valley over 24 hours

Vehicles on roads and highways were abandoned, stranded by big drifts in the April 1997 blizzard. (CBC)

As parts of southern Manitoba brace for a winter storm, there is a haunting echo from nearly 20 years ago.

On April 5, 1997, a spring snowfall began, then intensified with strong winds that impeded visibility. Over the next 24 hours, the storm dropped as much as 50 centimetres of snow on the Red River Valley (48 cm in Winnipeg).

Every highway and school in southern Manitoba was closed. Drivers abandoned snowbound vehicles on city roadways. At the Winnipeg airport, planes were grounded for almost 24 hours, trapping hundreds of passengers.

The snow, heavy with moisture from spring temperatures, snapped hydro lines and caused the roof of the Sears warehouse in Winnipeg's North End to collapse.
Winnipeggers clean up after the 1997 blizzard 2:23

It was the worst recorded blizzard snowfall in Winnipeg in a century, surpassing one in 1966 that left 38.1 cm of snow.

And it led to more heartbreak. The blizzard more than doubled the spring runoff levels and as temperatures rose, so did the river levels.

The April 1997 blizzard led to the Flood of the Century a month later. (City of Winnipeg)

What followed is called the Flood of the Century, an inundation that caused more than $500 million in damages and forced 28,000 people to evacuate their communities and homes.

The spring storm this week, which is forecast to start with flurries on Tuesday, isn't expected to bring a repeat of 1997, though some people will want to have a shovel at hand.

An Alberta clipper is moving into the province, spreading snow from the west and then into the Red River Valley, including Winnipeg.

The heaviest snowfall is expected west of Lake Manitoba to the Saskatchewan border, where 10-15 centimetres could fall by the end of the day.

Winnipeggers should expect to see about 3-5 cm on Tuesday, but even more overnight into Wednesday and then another couple of centimetres on Wednesday night.

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