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Worst Power Outages In History

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Electricity has become a necessity. And, like any necessity it is sorely missed when it isn’t available. In the United States today, electricity like water flows through more than 450,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines. The country’s power grid includes separate grids in the west, east, and in Texas. The network supplies electricity to more than 140 million customers in industries, businesses, and residences.

As we all know by now, power failures occur. Much of the time they occur as a result of severe weather including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and even severe heat. However, at times they can also result from human error or glitches in the machinery.

These issues don’t just occur in the United States. They occur all over the globe.

Since the 1960s, there has been a plethora of power outages in regions of the United States as well as the rest of the world. The worst of these failures are mentioned here.

Since power outages are not named as in the case of hurricanes, they are referred to by the date they occurred and the location of the outage.

Northeast Blackout Of 1965

Although electric power was introduced to the world at about the turn of the 20th Century, the first major outage occurred in 1965 and affected eight eastern states of the United States.

The states affected included:

  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Pennsylvania
  • Vermont

Referred to as the Northeast Blackout, it took place on Tuesday, November 9, 1965. More than 30 million people were without power.

It was not severe weather that caused the failure. This was the result of human error. A few days before the event, a protective relay on a transmission line was improperly set at the Niagara generation station in Queenston, Ontario, Canada.

When there is a power overload, the relay is supposed to trip a circuit breaker that provides an electrical circuit protection from an overload.

However, a maintenance worker did not set the protective relay high enough. So, on November 9th, the weather was cold causing an overload of electricity to provide heat, lighting, and the ability to cook. An incredible strain was put on the system.

A tiny surge in power coming from the Lewiston, New York generating plant tripped the relay that was set to low. A major power line to northern Ontario was deactivated. The rest of the power that was flowing to the tripped line was diverted resulting in overloads to other lines. The relay of these lines tripped forcing the power to head east into New York State. Lines there were overloaded as well.

It took less than five minutes for all of this to occur.

As a result of the event, committees were formed to create new standards and to share information between the affected regions. New Metering and monitoring systems and equipment were created and installed that prevent this from ever happening again.

New York City Blackout of 1977

New York City again was the site of a blackout that occurred in 1977. Lightning struck a substation on the Hudson River that tripped two circuit breakers that diverted power from protecting a circuit. As a result, 340,000 volts of electricity were converted into a lower voltage. A loose locking nut and a slow upgrade cycle stopped the breaker from closing and power began to flow again.

Two other lightning strikes occurred compounding the problem. About an hour after the initial breakers were tripped, New York City’s largest power generator went down.

The blackout offered an opportunity for looting to take place. By the end of the blackout about 4500 looters had been arrested and 550 police officers were injured.

West Coast Blackout Of 1982

On December 22, 1982, heavy winds buffeted the west coast of the United States. The winds knocked down a transmission tower into a line tower causing three other towers to fall.

As a result, about 2 million homes and businesses experienced a power outage. The failure affected residents of San Francisco and San Diego, California and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Canada’s Geomagnetic Storm Of 1989

In a rare occurrence, a billion ton cloud of ionized gas dubbed a coronal mass ejection was released from the sun on March 10, 1989. The mass was about the size of 30 Earths and carried energy that is equivalent to thousands of nuclear bombs exploding simultaneously.

On March 12, the cloud struck Earth’s magnetosphere causing Northern Lights that could be seen as far south as Cuba and plunged 6 million residents of Quebec into darkness. The blackout lasted for 12 hours.

Western North America Blackout Of 1996

In the summer of 1996 two major blackouts occurred within a six-week period in the same locations that included:

  • Western Canada
  • Western United States
  • Northwest Mexico

In the months of July and August the region was experiencing severe heat, which caused an extreme demand for power.

In the first outage, the state of Idaho wasn’t receiving a sufficient enough of electricity. As a result, there was acute voltage instability that caused a failure. The regions affected included:

  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Utah
  • New Mexico
  • California
  • Arizona

Fortunately, power was restored within 1 to 2 hours.

Intense summer heat in August caused the second outage. Several electrical lines overheated and flashed and then touched trees, which caused several small fires. Within about one hour, Oregon was disconnected from California and Northern and Southern California were disconnected from the grid. A power outage ensued and as many as 4 million people were left without power. For some the outage lasted just a few minutes, but for others it lasted for several hours.

North Central Blackout Of 1998

On June 25, 1998, lightning struck an electric line causing a transmission failure. A second lightning strike caused a series of transmission line disconnections. This caused the northern Midwest states of the United States to break from the eastern grid. Power was knocked out for about 19 hours in the upper Midwest of the U.S. and in Central Canada.

Southern Brazil Blackout of 1999

In the largest power outage of the time, 97 million residents of Brazil lost power on March 11, 1999 when lightning struck an electricity substation, which shutdown the largest power plant in the world. Ironically the Brazilian power grid had been privatized just days before the incident.

India Blackout Of 2001

A failure of a substation triggered India’s northern power grid to go down on January 2, 2001. The power outages lasted for 12-hours and affected nearly 236 million people, about one quarter of the country’s population. The catastrophic event caused India to privatize the power grid in order to upgrade it.

Northeast Blackout Of 2003

This power outage is the second most widespread in U.S. history. About 45 million people were affected. The states that experienced the failure included:

  • Ohio
  • New York
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • Vermont
  • Connecticut
  • Michigan

Most essential operations did continue in most areas and failed in others. Phone services were stressed because of an overload of calls. In Detroit water pressure was lost and city officials issued water boiling advisories that lasted for 4 days after power was restored. Sewage water spilled into waterways in Cleveland and New York resulting in beach closures.

As a result of the incident, national energy policy was focused on infrastructure protection.

Italy Blackout Of 2003

On September 28, 2003, a blackout in Italy affected nearly all of the country’s population of 57 million. The outage occurred in the early morning hours during an all-night art festival in Rome. Due to the festival, trains were still operating at 3:01 a.m. when a failure occurred on the Swiss power grid. The failure caused an overload of two internal lines near the Italian border stranding 110 trains with more than 30,000 people.

The European Blackout Of 2006

On November 4, 2006, an employee of the German Power Company turned off a high-voltage line that crossed the River Ems to permit a cruise ship to pass. This caused an overload of the grid and more than 10-15 million Europeans were plunged into an outage. The blackout affected Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Belgium.

Southwest Blackout Of 2011

Considered the largest blackout in California history, this outage occurred due to California’s need to import power from Arizona.

At the end of the summer of 2011, hot weather caused a conflict with the state’s schedule to have planned outages so that maintenance could be performed. This provided an opportunity for human error when a technician switched major equipment off causing power to fail for about 12 hours. The mistake affected as many as 2.7 million people.

As a result of the blackout, restaurants and grocery stores had to throw away an estimated value of $12 to $18 million of food. A number of sewage pumping stations failed, which caused unsafe water at many locations.

To prevent this from ever happening again, diesel generators were installed to run five pumping stations.

Derecho Blackout Of 2012

In June 2012, a Derecho, a widespread and long lasting storm that includes a series of thunderstorms, hurricane force winds, tornadoes, and flash floods struck large sections of the U.S. Midwest, the central Appalachians and the Mid-Atlantic states.

A total of 11 states and Washington, D.C. were plunged into a power outage. It took from 7 to 10 days to restore power.

The states most affected included:

  • Ohio
  • West Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey

India Blackout Of 2012

On July 30-31, 2012, the largest electrical outage in history occurred in India when three interconnected northern power grids failed for several hours. The blackout affected about 670 million people in 22 states extending from India’s eastern border with Myanmar to its western border with Pakistan.

Power outages can occur anywhere. In order to feel secure in your home or place of business you may want to consider purchasing a stand-alone generator.

APElectric offers a wide range of stand-alone generators from such manufacturers as Cummins, Westinghouse, Kohler, Briggs & Stratton, Generac, Firman, and Guardian.. They have a large inventory to choose from. Many models feature Wi-Fi so that you can monitor and control the generator from anywhere on Earth. Their website also includes a generator sizing calculator and offers information on how to select the proper generator for your situation.

Now more than ever it is essential that you be prepared. Visit the APElectric website and browse their supply of generators. Purchasing one can give you peace of mind when an unexpected or expected power outage occurs.