The cause of the failure in the Northeast Blackout of 1965 was human error that happened days before the blackout, when maintenance personnel incorrectly set a protective relay on one of the transmission lines between the Niagara generating station Sir Adam Beck Station No. 2 in Queenston, Ontario. The safety relay, which is set to trip if the current exceeds the capacity of the transmission line, was set too low.
As was common on a cold November evening, power for heating, lighting and cooking was pushing the electrical system to near its peak capacity, and the transmission lines heading into Southern Ontario were heavily loaded. At 5:16 p.m. Eastern Time a small surge of power coming from Lewiston, New York’s Robert Moses generating plant caused the misset relay to trip at far below the line’s rated capacity, disabling the main power line heading into Southern Ontario. Instantly, the power that was flowing on the tripped line transferred to the other lines, causing them to become overloaded. Their protective relays, which are designed to protect the line if it became overloaded, tripped, isolating Adam Beck from all of Southern Ontario.
With no place else to go, the excess power from Beck then switched direction and headed east over the interconnected lines into New York State, overloading them as well and isolating the power generated in the Niagara region from the rest of the interconnected grid. The Beck and Moses generators, with no outlet for their power, were automatically shut down to prevent damage. Within five minutes the power distribution system in the northeast was in chaos as the effects of overloads and loss of generating capacity cascaded through the network, breaking it up into “islands”. Plant after plant experienced load imbalances and automatically shut down. The affected power areas were the Ontario Hydro System, St Lawrence-Oswego, Western New York, Upstate New York, New England, and Maine. With only limited electrical connection southwards, power was not affected to the Southern States. The only part of the Ontario Hydro System not affected was the Fort Erie area next to Buffalo which was still powered by the old 25 Hz generators. Residents in Fort Erie were able to pick up a TV broadcast from New York where a local backup generator was being used for transmission purposes.
An aircheck of New York City station WABC reveals Dan Ingram doing a music radio show, in which he comments that the music sounds slow. The music playback equipment used motors that got their speed timing from the frequency of the powerline, normally 60Hz. Comparisons of segments of the hit songs played at the time of the broadcast, minutes before the blackout happened, in this aircheck, as compared to the same song recordings played at normal speed reveal that approx 6 minutes before blackout the line frequency was 56Hz, and just two minutes before the blackout that frequency dropped to 51Hz. Dan mentions that it seems the electricity is slowing down, and he didn’t know that that could happen. Power transformers and motors can’t take frequencies much lower, else they will burn out. Power grids are configured to shut down before that happens. UFO reports on the same night, many UFO sightings were made in the same area. One occurred at 4:30 PM over Tidioute, Pennsylvania, and another at 5:22 PM between Syracuse Airport and Rochester, New York. They were described as fast, bright objects. During the blackout, a private pilot and a flight instructor both witnessed a bright fireball 50100 ft in diameter, which quickly vanished. The fireball was observed over the Clay Power Station, which was originally said to be the source of the blackout before authorities reported the source of the surge to be at Beck. In New York City, UFOs with a strange glow were reported, and one of the pictures of the object taken was printed in Time Magazine. Before the Federal Power Commission‘s explanation, the Indianapolis Star, the Syracuse Herald-Journal, and the Associated Press all picked up the UFO reports. Where the power remained on at the time Holyoke, Massachusetts had a natural gas-powered auxiliary Pratt & Whitney gas turbine as well as a municipal power plant. When the control board operator saw problems on the grid he disconnected Holyoke and went to local power. Holyoke did not lose power. Hartford, Connecticut also used gas turbines to maintain power. Effect and aftermath New York City was dark by 5:27p.m. The blackout was not universal in the city. Some neighbourhoods never lost power. Also, some areas in New York City suburban area Bergen County, New Jersey, served by PSE&G, did not lose power. Most of the television stations in the New York metro area went dead, as well as about half the FM stations.
Fortunately, a bright full moon lit up the cloudless sky over the entire blackout area, providing some aid for the millions who were suddenly plunged into darkness.
Power resupply was uneven. Most generators had no auxiliary power to use for startup. Parts of Brooklyn were repowered by 11:00 pm, the rest of the Borough by midnight. However, the entire city was not returned to the normal power supply until nearly 7:00 a.m. the next day, November 10.
Power in western New York was restored in a few hours, thanks to the independent generating plant at Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York, which stayed online throughout the blackout. It provided auxiliary power to restart other generators in the area which, in turn, were used to get all generators in the blackout area going again.
The New York Times was able to produce a ten-page edition for November 10, using the printing presses of a nearby paper that was not affected, the Newark Evening News. The front page showed a photograph of the city skyline with its lights all out.
Following the blackout, measures were undertaken to try to prevent a repetition. Reliability councils were formed to establish standards, share information, and improve coordination between electricity providers. Ten councils were created covering the four networks of the North American Interconnected Systems. The Northeast Power Coordinating Council covered the area affected by the 1965 blackout.
The task force that investigated the blackout found that a lack of voltage and current monitoring was a contributing factor to the blackout, and recommended improvements. The Electric Power Research Institute helped the electric power industry develop new metering and monitoring equipment and systems, which have become the modern SCADA systems in use today.
In contrast to the wave of looting and other incidents that took place during the 1977 New York City blackout, only five reports of looting were made in New York City after the 1965 blackout. It was said to be the lowest amount of crime on any night in the city’s history since records were first kept.
The events of the blackout were dramatized in the 1968 film Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? The Bee Gees song “Massachusetts” discussed events of the blackout in its lyrics.
The blackout helped inspire an episode of the American television series Bewitched. The episode, titled “The Short Happy Circuit of Aunt Clara,” featured Aunt Clara attempting a spell to put out some lighted candles which inadvertently put out all the lights on the Eastern Seaboard. The episode was first broadcast on November 10, 1966.
The blackout is featured in an episode of Quantum Leap (“Double Identity — November 8, 1965”). In an effort to return to the future, Sam sets in motion fictional events that trigger the blackout.
The blackout is featured (and parodied) in an episode of Green Acres in the first season episode entitled, “Double Drick” on March 23, 1966.
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Johnny Bower was in the studio recording his Christmas ditty ‘Honky The Christmas Goose’ when the power went out in the studio. Bower thought it was his untrained voice that had knocked out the equipment. They finished the session late that night, and the song went to number 29 on the chart of Toronto Top 40 radio station, CHUM.
The blackout is discussed extensively in episode 1 of the BBC series Connections by James Burke.
The blackout provides the scene in a section of Don DeLillo’s novel Underworld.
The blackout is described in Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries on pages 134-138. ISBN 978-0-14-010018-1The blackout was mentioned on the HBO TV series Oz, when the story of elder inmate Bob Rebadow’s execution is told, in which he escaped the electric chair due to the timely blackout.
The blackout is mentioned in George Gipe’s novelization of the movie Gremlins from 1984. According to the novel, the blackout was caused by the Gremlins.
On the sitcom Wings in the episode “Sports and Leisure”, a question about the blackout comes up in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Then, most of the characters retrospect as to where they were or what they were doing when the blackout occurred. The blackout was also mentioned in an episode of the original Batman TV series. The blackout was portrayed in the American Dreams episode “One in a Million”.
Episode #4 of the first season of the TV series “Monk” also mentions one of the characters’ conception during the 1965 blackout. In the pilot episode of the Night Gallery entitled “Eyes”, the main character has her sight restored for 12 hours just as the 1965 blackout occurs.
The night of the blackout, Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones (who was in the city as part of the band’s fourth North American tour) and Bob Dylan threw a party in a suite at the Lincoln Square Motor Inn, culminating in a candlelight jam session along with fellow musicians Bobby Neuwirth and Robbie Robertson. (Jones and Dylan had attended a studio session with Wilson Pickett earlier in the day.) Dylan is said to have remarked on arriving: “It’s an invasion from Mars! Let’s turn on. What better time? The little green men have landed.
“The blackout is mentioned in the Tom Wolfe book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The myth of the blackout baby boom, a thriving urban legend arose in the wake of the Northeast Blackout of 1965, in which it is told that a peak in the birthrate of the blackout areas was observed nine months after the incident. The origin of the myth is a series of three articles published in August 1966 in the New York Times, in which interviewed doctors told that they had noticed an increased number of births.
The story was debunked in 1970 by J. Richard Udry, a demographer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who did a careful statistical study that found no increase in the birthrate of the affected areas. See also brittle Power List of power outages New York City Blackout of 1977 Northeast Blackout of 2003 References^ http://www.musicradio77.com/images/ing11-9-65blackout.mp3^ The Canadian UFO Report: The Best Cases Revealed, Chris Rutkowski and Geoff Dittman, 2006, ISBN 1-55002-621-6^ Time Magazine. December 10, 1965. “Providing Blackout Lights”^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The ’70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p.Â 14. ISBN 0465041957.Â ^ “Rock 101: The Night the Lights Went Out”. WNEW.com. 2009-11-03. http://www.wnew.com/2009/11/rock-101-the-night-the-lights-went-out.html.Â External linksDamien Cave, Imaginary infants as beacons of hope, 10/15/01, Salon.com, onlineCBC Digital Archives – The ‘Great Northeastern Blackout’ of 1965Memoirs of the 1965 Blackout MemoryArchive. Sitts, George. “Radio Pierces The Great Blackout,” Broadcast Engineering (magazine), December 1965. Categories: History of the Northeastern United States | Blackouts | 1965 in Canada | 1965 in the United States.