In the very early hours of the morning I was awoken by strange whirring noises and sharp flashes of light radiating through my bedroom window. At first I thought it was some kind of hallucinogenic dream, but as I regained consciousness and peered behind the curtains I found a streetcar creeping along the tracks at a very slow pace. Each inch it travelled, it would let out a bright electrical spark at the point where the trolley pole touched the overhead electrical line. I assumed it was a faulty tram on its way back to the depot for repairs and I returned to my slumber, completely unaware that Toronto was in the midst of one of the most catastrophic ice storms in recent history.
Unlike a conventional storm of wind & heavy rain, an ice storm is formed when light drizzle mixes with a sub-freezing ambient temperature. A layer of ice gently and gradually materialises on exposed surfaces; often unnoticed if it occurs overnight, as proven in my case. Its dangers include an increased risk of road accidents, slips & falls on the footpaths, and the collapse of trees & power lines under the pressure of the icy build-up. This can of course lead to loss of electricity, heating and plumbing – all vital for survival during the winter months. As I write this, an estimated 250,000 people across Greater Toronto are without power, a very un-Christmas-like situation which may not be rectified for another three days.
Having said that, the meteorological anomaly also has the ability to transform everyday objects such as bicycles, plants and rubbish bins into spectacular works of natural art, quite unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed before. It wasn’t until I woke up again at around 9am that I looked out my window and first saw the effects of the ice storm for myself, on the overhead electrical lines above Dundas St West. One thing was for sure as I made my way outside to investigate further: there would be no streetcars today.