In order to illuminate what happened on August 14 in history, we don't have to shine our flashlights back very far. It was on this day in 2003 that the northeastern seaboard experienced an historic blackout. At 4:05 p.m., people across the Northeast lost power and many of them stayed without electricity for as long as 48 hours. The blackout was considered to be the second biggest of its time. The biggest modern blackout happened in Southern Brazil in 1999.
Approximately 50 million individuals in Ontario and the Northeast United States had to go without electricity as a result of the 2003 blackout. A total of 100 power plants (including 22 nuclear plants) went offline during the catastrophe.
The Tree That Broke the Electrical Grid's Back
Believe it or not, all it took to trigger this large-scale blackout were a few overgrown trees. The offending untrimmed trees brushed up against some power lines in Ohio, which caused the power lines to shut down. Normally, something like this would have caused an alarm to go off and various systems and protocols would have gone into effect to isolate the incident. However, this did not happen and the blackout created a domino effect leaving millions of people without power.
Traffic lights went offline just in time for rush hour traffic along the eastern seaboard. Good Samaritans jumped out of their cars and tried to help direct their fellow citizens through busy intersections. In Toronto, subways came to a full stop, as city commuters were left in darkness, stranded inside the subway tunnels. People were scared and did not know what was happening as government officials and energy company workers scrambled to get the lights back on.
The 2003 Blackout Caused 11 Deaths and $6 Billion in Damages
Events like this can be very dangerous and costly. Indeed, 11 deaths and $6 billion in financial damages were blamed on the August 14, 2003, blackout. Fortunately, politicians say that energy grid technologies have improved since 2003 in order to prevent something like this from happening again. Hopefully they are right, but only time will tell whether energy systems have improved sufficiently to avoid a similarly catastrophic event in the future.
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