August 14, 2003: The Great Blackout of 2003

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A Brief History

On August 14, 2003, an enormous electrical blackout struck the Northeast and upper Midwest of the United States and a large part of Western Ontario, Canada, leaving about (or “aboot” in the Great White North) 55 million people without electricity for a period lasting between 7 hours and 2 days. As is nearly always the case, the government response was a knee jerk reaction to lie to the public! While the 9/11 terrorist attacks were still fresh in the minds of North Americans, the US Government assured the public that the power outage was NOT a terror attack, even though at the same time they said they had no idea what caused the outage! This type of automatic reaction, reverting to a lie virtually immediately, is why people do not trust the Government at almost any level, but especially at the Federal level. The Canadian Prime Minister blamed a lightning strike, while some American authorities insisted the problem originated in Canada. All were lying.

Digging Deeper

The Northeast Blackout of 2003 turned out to be the second largest blackout in history, eclipsed only by the 1999 Brazil Power Outage. The relatively simple cause of the initial problem was electric lines that had fallen into the branches of trees, a not uncommon problem. The seemingly minor problem was compounded by a “software glitch” in the program that controlled the alarm system at First Energy, an Akron, Ohio based power company. Operators at the company headquarters failed to recognize the problem, which should have been localized and quickly addressed, which resulted in overloads that went unaddressed causing the massive blackout.

This image shows states and provinces that experienced power outages. Not all areas within these political boundaries were affected.

From Massachusetts westward to Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula, and up into Ontario, the electrical grid associated with the Niagara region went dark. Within the affected area major problems were encountered with obtaining fuel for generators as gas stations mostly lost the ability to pump gasoline and diesel. Streetlights and traffic signals went dark, and the evening of August 14, 2003 was eerily dark and quiet. As the power outage went on for hours many people began to panic about many things, such as life saving oxygen equipment, ruined frozen and refrigerated food, security of stores and businesses, losing desperately needed pay from working, and of course, missing baseball games! Many areas lost water supply as pumps went silent, and some areas lost natural gas. Airline schedules were thrown into disarray and greedy gas station and store owners (some of them) engaged in extreme price gouging (just as some did on September 11, 2001).

Emergency services were adversely affected, with some telephone systems going down and radio communication for police and fire/rescue became problematical. About 100 human deaths were attributed to the blackout. Some deaths were caused by improper use of generators, resulting in deaths by carbon monoxide poisoning. Who knows how many aquarium fish perished for lack of aeration of their tanks! The Cleveland and Toronto airports were not back in business until the evening of August 15, 2003.

Toronto, on the evening of August 14

Investigation revealed the software bug, and also that an operator failed to take appropriate action when the problem first started. First Energy was found to have inadequately kept foliage trimmed within electric transmission rights of way, contributing to the problem of electric lines getting into the branches. Other ill-considered parts of the electrical grid were identified and hopefully corrected since the disaster. Despite being clearly at fault for the fiasco, First Energy was not prosecuted or fined as the laws of that time did not allow for such action.

Why is our electrical grid a hodge-podge of all sorts of public and private companies? Seriously, we think something as important as the power that drives our nation should be standardized and centrally controlled. The confusion about the root cause of the blackout and the slow response in correcting the problems is strictly third world, not what we expect from the mighty United States! What do you think? Should utilities be nationalized? Should utilities remain in private business? Let us know your opinions.

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern United States taken before and during the blackout

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Fournier, Mark. The Blackout of 2003. Amazon Digital, 2018.

The Blackout of 2003 (Kindle Edition)


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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.