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Rochester Remembers 1991 Ice Storm on 25th Anniversary

Linda Kohl
Ice covers a Penfield neighborhood in March 1991

Twenty-five years ago this Friday, March 4, Rochester area residents woke up to a major ice storm that brought the region to a virtual standstill. 

On the night of March 3, 1991, freezing rain fell for 17 hours, leaving three-quarters of an inch covering everything. An estimated two-thirds of trees in the area were damaged or destroyed.

Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were without power, some of them for almost two weeks. RG and E spokesman Richard Meier recalls that 60 percent of the utility's distribution network was brought down by the ice. 

Today, more power lines are installed underground and RG and E has a storm preparation team that follows federal protocols that were established after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

"Everyone at RG and E has a storm role," Meier said. "We practice it. We do table top exercises. We have more interaction with several different weather services who let us know if there's extreme weather coming."

One of the of the most common complaints the utility heard from customers after the 1991 ice storm was about the uncertainty over when their power would be restored. Today, information is more readily available on R G and E's website.      

"There are ways to report outages," Meier said. "There are ways to see which streets don't have power; there's an interactive map. We have an outage alert system now that people can sign up for. We'll send them texts or emails trying to give them an estimated time of restoration."

The ice storm caused an estimated $375 million in damage, making it one of the worst natural disasters in New York State history. Aside from the devastation, many people remember neighbors helping neighbors and people gathering at homes that did have power, or the use of a gas or wood stove that could provide heat.