One year ago, a Thanksgiving storm pummeled Manitoba but those involved in its cleanup say Manitobans hit back just as hard.

On October 10, the City of Winnipeg and many nearby areas began experiencing a "once in a lifetime" storm.

Earlier that day Mayor Brian Bowman, aware of a big storm that was about to hit Winnipeg, addressed the public near noon. He was encouraging workers to go home early, clearing the roads of non-essential travel to make way for emergency crews that would be needed during the evening. Many decided to take the snow day, heading home early before the pending storm. As a larger lunch-rush headed home, Winnipeggers began watching the city hurry to a standstill. 

At home, families watched big white snowflakes through their windows. As the flakes began falling, Manitobans knew the peaceful moment of the city's noises dampening under a soft coating of snow would not last long. For some Manitobans, the blankets they wrapped themselves in to enjoy the snowfall would become essential to their warmth.

Manitoba Hydro's Bruce Owen calls the events that took place over the course of numerous days "the perfect storm." The storm, while entrancing to watch, wreaked havoc and caused tens of thousands of customers, particularly those near Portage la Prairie, to be without power during the cold days ahead.

hydro tower snappedHydro towers and poles snapped under the immense pressure of the wet and heavy snow. (Manitoba Hydro)

"What happened last year was a once-in-a-lifetime event and we won't see a repeat. It was a perfect storm and we do not see those too often," Owen says.

Listen to the full interview with Bruce Owen:

Significant loss for city's canopy

As the snow settled and residents ventured out of their homes, streets covered in downed trees created an apocalyptic scene. Martha Barwinsky, City Forester, says the loss was and still is, significant. 

"I remember, even in the St. James area, driving through there and just seeing mountains and mountains of brush on the boulevards," Barwinsky says. 

snowy house(Manitoba Hydro)

The heavy rainfall and snow clung to the not-yet-fallen leaves, taking branches, and in some cases whole trees, on its journey to the ground.

"It was a significant storm in losing that many trees in such a short period of time but it was even more extraordinary if I can use that word, that we had so many trees that were damaged over that two-day period."

Barwinsky estimates that 30,000 trees were damaged, but they had a lot of branches of support helping to clean the damage. 

"I have never experienced so many different agencies and different groups coming together for the common good to help clean up the city and make the city safe."

Six-hundred of the damaged trees were removed, but Barwinsky says they are still cleaning up one year later. 

Owen estimates that almost one-third of Manitobans lost power at least once over the course of the storm.

In Portage la Prairie and surrounding areas, Owen says the storm took down key infrastructure, causing the area to lose power for a long time. For some families, power would not be restored until days, and for some even weeks, later.

On Sunday, October 13, Premier Brian Pallister declared a state of emergency to cope with the sudden destruction.

hydro surrounded by trees(Manitoba Hydro)

In total, Hydro says the storm took down:

  • approximately 1,000 kilometres of wood pole distribution lines
  • approximately 4,000 wood poles were snapped
  • over 300 transmission towers damaged
  • over 160,000 of Hydro's 593,490 lost power, with some losing power more than once

The storm cost Manitoba Hydro approximately $100 million to make the quick repairs.

"Part of the lessons learned process in this is how did that storm act, and can we redesign our system or our transmission towers to weather a similar storm again?" Owen asks.

Hydro became aware of the pending storm three days earlier and began preparing for the extra manpower soon to be required. Workers were also given time off in advance as Hydro began cancelling jobs.

Workers from Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Minnesota united to keep homes warm.

While all of this was happening, Manitobans watched as Hydro workers quickly became their new heroes as they rushed to restore power to homes.

Owen says 1,100 people were in the field restoring power, but behind them was a team coordinating everything else, including meals and sleeping arrangements.

hydro votingHydro workers vote at the polls. (Manitoba Hydro)

"It was a singular mission: to get people, our customers, back up as quickly as possible." 

In total, 186,000 hours of work were put into the restoration of power. Owen says they had very few safety incidents during this time.

"We did a lot of things right."

This year, he is thinking about how supportive Manitobans were throughout the entire storm.

"Manitobans were incredibly, incredibly supportive," Owen says. "That is Manitoba though. I am an old guy... I spent a lot of time covering natural disasters and I saw it then. In Manitoba, a natural disaster hits, and people go 'ok,' they do not sit around and moan. They get out there and pitch in."

Owen says that is exactly what they saw one year ago.

hydro meal(Manitoba Hydro)

Finding paths peppered with signs of encouragement and receiving cards, Hydro workers were feeling the love of their province in full force that Thanksgiving.

Owen says last year many Hydro workers gave up their own family Thanksgivings to restore power for the province, but they are unable to make up for it this year.

"It is kind of neat, talking about last year, but because of what has happened since March it just seems like an entirely different world. Last year Thanksgiving was one hundred years ago. It just seems so long now."

hydro thank you cardOwen says Hydro workers received many notes of encouragement. (Manitoba Hydro) 

Just as they did last year, Hydro workers will not be having a big Thanksgiving gathering due to the pandemic.

Owen says while knocking on wood, that on the plus side, Manitobans will be staying warm with the lights on this holiday weekend. 

While the weather for Thanksgiving in 2020 is clear of any snow predictions, Owen says Manitobans need to have a safety plan in place.

Battery chargers, flashlights, and having a place to stay are all recommended by Manitoba Hydro.

"You need to have a plan of where you need to go," Owen says. "So you are warm, you are fed, you are clean, and you are not alone."