10 Years After the Great Blackout, the Grid Is Stronger — but Vulnerable to Extreme Weather


Science & Space

It wasn’t the tree’s fault — or least, not just the tree’s fault. Nearly 10 years ago, on Aug. 14, 2003, the electricity grid in the U.S. Northeast was stressed close to the limit. This wasn’t unusual; summer is a period of high demand in the Northeast, as air conditioners run overtime to compensate for the heat, and a number of older power plants were already offline for maintenance. As power lines became overloaded, they began sagging because of the high temperatures, until one line south of Cleveland touched an overgrown tree limb and short-circuited. What followed was a cascade of disaster due to a mix of human error and equipment failure, until by 4:10 p.m. E.T. that day more than 50 million people had lost power in parts of Ontario and eight U.S. states. New York City looked like this, and power wasn’t fully restored for two days…

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