News   Jun 18, 2024
 214     0 
News   Jun 18, 2024
 308     0 
News   Jun 18, 2024
 465     0 

20th anniversary of the August 2003 Blackout

Jonny5

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Nov 23, 2007
Messages
4,182
Reaction score
2,505
20 years ago today was the blackout that cut power from Toronto to New York City to Ottawa, to Detroit, starting promptly at exactly 4:11 p.m..
I thought to put a spot here for everyone to share their recollections of that remarkable day.

I recall the mood getting rather festive on the street where I lived. Everyone from each house was out on the street and then a big table appeared and a mish mash of chairs appeared followed by candles and a bottle or three of wine.
Someone was grilling hot dogs and sausages because they were worried the meat would spoil.

The power came actually came back on early where I was, shortly after 9:00 p.m., so it was only out for five hours or so, but I recall large swaths of Toronto didn't have it back until the next day.

 
I was vacationing near Port Elgin, but we only lost power for a few hours. Due to our proximity to the Bruce Nuclear Plant, the area had an emergency sub-grid in place.
 
I seem to recall it being out for 3 days.
Maybe you are thinking of the 1998 ice storm blackouts in Ontario and Quebec? That incident went on for many days, though it was geographically smaller and it didn't cut power to everyone at the exact same moment all over like the 2003 blackout.
 
20 years wow...time certainly does fly by.

I was in a bus on the way down to Orlando for Disney World, I believe I was somewhere in the middle of Georgia when the blackout happened.
 
I came across this video which gives a great engineering explanation of the whole sequence of events that caused the blackout.

It was really a series of minor equipment and operational failures in Ohio, all of which individually had no significant immediate consequences, but when all of them combined they caused a massive energy surge in the power grid that whipped all the way around Lake Erie and tripped every failsafe device in all of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, thus collapsing the power grid.

It's really interesting to see these reviews of how complex systems fail not from any single major fault, but instead from multiple seemingly minor issues that coincidentally happen at the same time, and then come together to cause a chaotic situation. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are other examples, as are many airplane crashes and deadly accidents.

 
the convenience store downstairs tried to sell ice cream that had previously melted during the blackout,
LOL that's so gross but also I have a miniscule bit of sympathy as I bet the owner lost a ton of cash from ruined product, and unlike a chain grocery store probably couldn't absorb or simply write off the loss.
 
Remember that day well - I was out on a site visit for a research project and was almost home when the power went out. Ended up having steak for dinner. Power came back on before midnight, but I remember it was a scorching day so no sleep to be had...

AoD
 
I was vacationing near Port Elgin, but we only lost power for a few hours. Due to our proximity to the Bruce Nuclear Plant, the area had an emergency sub-grid in place.

Fun fact, Bruce ignored regulations (it's a strong suggestion, not mandatory) and chose not to shut-down the reactors immediately on grid failure: Darlington and Pickering both shutdown their reactors. Instead they dumped excess heat into the lake with expectations the grid would come back in a few minutes. As a result of being one of the few active plants, their power source along with Niagara (which is self-restartable) was used to restart a large portion of the province as nearly all power plants require a source of electricity to start.

Also a fun fact, the on-site office building did not have electricity because the Bruce pumps out a higher voltage and doesn't feed their own site directly.
 
I lived in Niagara at the time. The power was out for a few hours initially, then returned (assuming it came from Niagara Falls). There were rolling blackouts over the next few days, I guess to fair share capacity to other parts of the province until the nukes came back on line.
 
I had just left the office when the power dropped (I was still in the building but outside of the security doors, I could hear the power drop then, a few seconds later, the generators kicked in). I had about an hour's drive home but for some reason didn't have the radio on. I finally came to a set of dark traffic signals and thought 'hmm' so turned on the radio to hear the news. We had a small generator so were good for a few lights and alternating between the well pump and fridge. I was scheduled to be off the next day to take our daughter to Canada's Wonderland (that obviously didn't happen) so went into work to see if they needed a hand. If I recall correctly, power in the north Simcoe area came back up around mid-Friday.

Scariest part of the whole thing - any power outage really - drivers who treat dark signals like a through road.

The one thing I remember from early on was some US politician saying the whole thing was Canada's fault. Like the 9/11 terrorists, they are always quick to blame others.
 
I lived in Niagara at the time. The power was out for a few hours initially, then returned (assuming it came from Niagara Falls). There were rolling blackouts over the next few days, I guess to fair share capacity to other parts of the province until the nukes came back on line.

There's a strong chance the rolling blackouts were changes to the grid so distant natural gas and coal power stations would receive power to enable them to start. Nearly every large plant requires electronics of some type prior to starting, and a feed of the 60hz signal to match. Bringing a plant online out of phase is massively destructive.

Since there's not a direct connection, they'd need to turn on a non-trivial region around the plant to reach the plant power. Niagara's 1GW only goes so far, especially during a loading surge. Power line workers were working very long hours manually opening and closing breakers at substations to route energy for this.

Once the remote plant had started and was servicing their local area, they'd bring Niagara neighbourhoods back online.
 
Last edited:

Back
Top