50 years ago today, the Northeast went dark

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Credit: NBC News via YouTube

The Northeast blackout of 1965, which occurred 50 years ago today, was one of those “Where were you?” historical events that those who lived through it will never forget.

I was at home in North Attleboro, Mass., and while only eight years old, remember the blackout vividly. About 30 million people living in Ontario, New York, New Jersey and the New England states sparing Maine were plunged into darkness for up to 13 hours.

This clip from NBC News captures both the drama of evening – Cold War fears were in full force – and the primitiveness of reporting under such conditions 50 years ago.

What caused the outage? From Wikipedia:

The cause of the failure was human error that happened days before the blackout. 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 was to trip if the current exceeded 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. Transmission lines heading into Southern Ontario were heavily loaded. At 5:16 p.m. Eastern Time, a small surge of power originating from the Robert Moses generating plant in Lewiston, New York caused the improperly set relay to trip at far below the line's rated capacity, disabling a 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 own protective relays, which are designed to protect the line from overload, tripped, isolating Beck Station from all of Southern Ontario.

It wasn’t the Blizzard of ’78, but it was something.

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