How Did the Northeast of America Go Dark During 1965?

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On 9 November 1965 over 80,000 square miles of the North East United States, plus Toronto and Ottawa in Canada, were plunged into darkness when a transmission line near Ontario caused a succession of power outages. Over 30 million people were affected. 

A map of the states and provinces affected; not all areas within the political boundaries were blacked out. Image Credit 08OceanBeach SD / Commons.

A domino effect

The outage was caused by a small variation of power tripping a single protective relay. Seems innocent enough, right? However this single relay tripping caused power to surge on other lines, each of which tripped their own safety relays.

Then the excess power transferred to over lines which themselves overloaded, eventually causing several generators and power plants to shut down, causing power-shortages across the North-East. All of this occurred within 5 minutes.

The Big Apple

of course, the big city that was affected by the power outage was New York. The power cut came at 5.27pm in New York, the peak of rush hour, causing chaos across the city. Thousands of people were trapped underground on the subway system, while others found themselves stuck in elevators that suddenly stopped between floors. In the air, planes circled dark airports.

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Neighbours came together to eat dinner by candlelight and power was gradually restored during the night. Luckily there was a full moon that night, which illuminated the streets for the millions affected. 

The NYPD later announced that the crime rate in the city had actually fallen during the outage. There were only 5 reports of looting, the lowest ever amount of nighttime crime during the recorded history of the city.

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Naturally after the blackout, measures were taken to try and prevent such a thing occurring again. Reliability councils were created to share information and establish standards, and new equipment and monitoring systems were developed and implemented.

Unfortunately, another blackout occurred in 2003, covering a wider area. The 2003 blackout was the second most widespread blackout in history at the time.

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