Blackout of August 14, 2003

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Blackout of August 14, 2003

At 4:11 p.m. ET on Aug. 14, 2003, Ontario and much of the northeastern U.S. were hit by the largest blackout in North America's history. Electricity was cut to 50 million people, bringing darkness to customers from New York to Toronto to North Bay. Total area affected by blackout was 24,086 square kilometers. It took 9 seconds for the electricity grid to collapse.

Streetlights went out, subway trains stopped mid-tunnel and refrigeration equipment went dead. And while some electricity consumers had service restored by early the next morning, many areas remained in darkness well into the next day and even the one following.

The cause of the blackout, according to Canada-U.S. joint task force, can be traced back to FirstEnergy Corp. of Ohio. Chaired by Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal and U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, the task force tabled its findings in Washington on November 19, 2003.

12:15
Midwest Independent System Operator's system monitoring tool is "rendered ineffective" after receiving "incorrect input data."


16:13
By this point, more than 263 power plants (531 individual generating units) have tripped offline in Canada and the U.S., leaving 50 million people without power.



  • "I've been doing this for about 45 minutes, because nobody else is." –Peter Carayiannis, employee at a Toronto law firm who chipped in by directing traffic because of downed traffic lights.

Other Blackouts

The great blackout of 1965 began at 5:16 p.m. on November 9, 1965 at Niagara Falls, Ontario. By 5:27 when the lights went out in New York, 30 million people in Canada and the northeastern United States were without power. The blackout covered 207,000 square kilometers and lasted more than 13 hours.

That blackout was blamed on the failure of a power relay at the Sir Adam Beck Station No. 2 in Niagara Falls.


On July 13, 1977, lightning struck the Indian Point Power generating station in the New York suburb of Westchester at 8:37 p.m. Again there was a cascading power failure, with much of New York and its suburbs dark by 9:41 p.m.


References