Looking back: Winnipeg’s Blizzard of 1997

The worst storm in Manitoba history virtually shut Winnipeg down on the weekend of April 5 to 7, 1997, closing the airport, shopping centres, all surrounding highways and knocking out hydro and phone service in some areas.

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The worst storm in Manitoba history virtually shut Winnipeg down on the weekend of April 5 to 7, 1997, closing the airport, shopping centres, all surrounding highways and knocking out hydro and phone service in some areas.

The storm began around 4 p.m. on Saturday, and before it was over it dumped nearly 50 centimetres of snow on the city.

Slogging down Pembina Highway on Sunday. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“We don’t have any other storms that beat it. We’ve beat all kinds of records,” Environment Canada meterologist Michel Bisson said at the time.

The storm set records for most precipitation in a 24-hour period — including the legendary March 1966 blizzard with at 25.6 cm and the November 1986 blizzard, with 35 cm of snow — and records for the worst April storm since Environment Canada began keeping records in 1876.

The blizzard fell on top of twice the normal accumulation of winter snow — more than 1.5 metres around Winnipeg, and as much as 2.5 metres along the upper reaches of the Red River.

The new snowfall was the equivalent of almost nine centimetres of water on the landscape — enough to raise the Red by four feet — resulting in a flood like no living Manitoban had ever seen.

Neil Mathews digs out his van on Main Street. He figured it would take the better part of the day to shovel out the vehicle and get it running. (Joe Bryksa-Winnipeg Free Press files)
Errol Funk had to shovel his way out of his Winnipeg home. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Portage Avenue was impassable on Sunday afternoon, April 6. (Jeff DeBooy / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Motorists had their work cut out for them on the Trans Canada Highway. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)
The snowfall was not merely deep - it was lead-heavy. It would melt into millions of cubic feet of water. Plaridel Orcullo digs out on Mountain Avenue after the storm. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Travellers settle in at Winnipeg's airport. (Jeff de Booy / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Digging out the day after the storm in Garden Grove. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Sidewalks are plugged, so Richard Temple hikes down a freshly-plowed Portage Avenue. (Jeff DeBooy / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Boyd Avenue residents clear their street. (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press files)
A City of Winnipeg snowplow works around vehicles on Portage Avenue on Sunday, April 6. The city had come to a virtual standstill. (Jeff DeBooy / Winnipeg Free Press files)
As a snowmobile passes, Winnipegger Rick Tanchuk digs out his car that was buried by a passing snowplow on McPhillips Street near Burrows Avenue. (Jeff DeBooy / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Tammy Lajeunesse notes that Elite Communications on St.James Street is open on the morning of Monday, April 7. (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press files)
An intrepid shopper heads for the Eaton's warehouse. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)
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