The New York City Blackout of 1977
was an electricity blackout
that affected New York City
from July 13
to July 14
Unlike other blackouts that affected the region, namely the Northeast Blackout of 1965 and the 2003 North America blackout, the 1977 blackout was localized to New York City and the immediate surroundings. It resulted in city-wide looting and other disorder, including arson.
The events leading up to the blackout began at 8:37 p.m. EDT on July 13
with a lightning strike at Buchanan South, a substation
on the Hudson River
, tripping two circuit breakers
in Westchester County. The Buchanan South substation converted the 345,000 volts of electricity
from Indian Point
to lower voltage for commercial use. A loose locking nut combined with a tardy upgrade cycle ensured that the breaker was not able to reclose and allow power to flow again.
A second lightning strike caused the loss of two 345,000 volt transmission lines, subsequent reclose of only one of the lines, and the loss of power from a 900MW nuclear plant at Indian Point. As a result of the strikes, two other major transmission lines became loaded over their normal limits. Per procedure, Con Edison
, the power provider for New York City and some of Westchester County
, tried to start fast-start generation at 8:45PM EDT; however, no one was manning the station, and the remote start failed.
At 8:55PM EDT there was another lightning strike, which took out two additional critical transmission lines. As before, only one of the lines was automatically returned to service. This outage of lines from the Sprain Brook
substation caused the remaining lines to exceed the long-term operating limits of their capacity. After this last failure, Con Edison had to manually reduce the loading on another local generator at their East River facility, due to problems at the plant. This exacerbated an already dire situation.
At 9:14PM EDT, over thirty minutes from the initial event, Con Edison initiated a 5% system-wide voltage reduction to try to reduce NYC load and the transfers from upstate. The results were not satisfactory, and the power was then reduced by 8%. At 9:19 PM EDT the final major interconnection to Upstate NY at Leeds substation tripped due to a thermal overload which caused a 345kV conductor to sag into a tree. This trip caused the 138 kV links with Long Island
to overload, and a major interconnection
with PSEG in New Jersey
began to load even higher than previously reported. At 9:22PM EDT, Long Island Lighting Company
opened its 345,000 volt interconnection to Con Edison in an effort to save its own system.
At 9:24 pm EDT the Con Edison operator tried and failed to manually shed load. Five minutes later, at 9:29 PM EDT, the Goethals-Linden 230,000 volt interconnection
with New Jersey tripped, and the Con Edison system began to automatically isolate itself from the outside world. (Perrino 2007)
Con Ed could not generate enough power within the city, and the three power lines
that supplemented the city's power were overtaxed. Just after 9:27 PM EDT, the biggest generator in New York City, Ravenswood 3
(also known as Big Allis
), shut down. With it went all of New York City. (Mahler 2005)
By 9:36 PM EDT the entire Con Edison power system shut down, almost exactly an hour after the first lightning strike. By 10:26 PM EDT operators started a restoration procedure. Power was not restored until late the following day.
As a result of the 1977 blackout, the operating entities in New York fully investigated the blackout, its related causes, and the operator actions. They implemented significant changes, which are still in effect today, to guard against a similar occurrence. Despite these safeguards, there was a blackout in August 2003
, although this was caused by a power system failure as far away as Eastlake, Ohio
The blackout came at a low point in the city's history
, with New York facing a severe financial crisis and fretting over the Son of Sam
murders. The nation as a whole was suffering from a protracted economic downturn
and commentators have contrasted the event with the good-natured Where were you when the lights went out?
atmosphere of 1965. Some pointed to the financial crisis as a root cause of the disorder, others noted the hot July weather. Still others noted that the 1977 blackout came after businesses had closed and their owners went home, while in 1965 the blackout occurred during the day and owners stayed to protect their property.
were widespread especially in the African American
and Puerto Rican
communities, hitting thirty-one neighborhoods
, including every poor neighborhood in the city. Among the hardest hit were Crown Heights
where seventy-five stores on a five-block stretch were looted, and Bushwick
where arson was rampant with some 25 fires still burning the next morning. At one point two blocks of Broadway, which separates Bushwick from Bedford-Stuyvesant
in Brooklyn, were on fire. Thirty-five blocks of Broadway were destroyed: 134 stores looted, 45 of them set ablaze.
Because of the power failure, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports were closed down for about eight hours, automobile tunnels were closed because of lack of ventilation, and 4,000 people had to be evacuated from the subway system. Con Ed called the shutdown an "act of God," enraging Mayor Abraham Beame, who charged that the utility was guilty of "gross negligence."
In many neighborhoods, veterans of the 1965 blackout headed to the streets at the first sign of darkness.
But many of them did not find the same spirit. In poor neighborhoods across the city, looting and arson erupted. On streets like Brooklyn's Broadway the rumble of iron store gates being forced up and the shattering of glass preceded scenes of couches, televisions, and heaps of clothing being paraded through the streets by looters at once defiant, furtive and gleeful.
"The looters were looting other looters, and the fists and the knives were coming out," Carl St. Martin, a neurologist in Forest Hills, Queens, recalled years later. A third-year medical student living in Bushwick when the blackout hit, he spent the night suturing a succession of angry wounds at Wyckoff Heights Hospital.
Before the lights came back on, even Brooks Brothers on Madison Avenue was looted. On the first Sunday after the blackout, a priest named Gabriel Santacruz looked out at the congregation in St. Barbara's Church in Bushwick and bleakly told it, "We are without God now."
In all, 1,616 stores were damaged in looting and rioting. 1,037 fires were responded to, including 14 multiple-alarm fires. In the largest mass arrest in city history, 3,776 people were arrested. Many had to be stuffed into overcrowded cells, precinct basements and other makeshift holding pens. A Congressional study estimated that the cost of damages amounted to a little over US$300 million.
went dark at approximately 9:30 p.m., in the bottom of the sixth inning, with Lenny Randle
at bat. The New York Mets
were losing 2-1 against the Chicago Cubs
. Jane Jarvis
, Shea's Organist and "Queen of Melody", played Jingle Bells
and White Christmas.
The game was completed on September 16
, with the Cubs winning 5-2.
By 1:45 p.m. the next day, service was restored to half of Consolidated Edison's customers, mostly in Staten Island
. It was not until 10:39 p.m. on July 14
that the entire city's power was back online.
Mayor Abe Beame
accused Con Ed of "gross negligence" but would eventually feel the effect himself. He finished third in the Democratic
primary to Ed Koch
and Mario Cuomo
. Koch would go on to win the mayoral election.
- In 1977, The Trammps released the song "The Night the Lights Went Out" to commemorate the electrical blackout.
- In a what-if alternate history issue of Conan the Barbarian by Marvel Comics, the blackout is connected to a brief time travel visit of Conan to our times. Peter Parker also makes a cameo.
- According to Men in Black (1997), the blackout was caused by a super bouncing energy ball, and the blackout was a practical joke by "The Great Attractor".
- Raymond Stantz knocks out New York City's power while investigating a river of slime in Ghostbusters II (1989).
- Coupled with Son of Sam hysteria, the effects of the blackout on New York City are a key theme of the 1999 Spike Lee film Summer of Sam.
- Rapper Pharoahe Monch's 2006 music video "Push" is set in the night of the blackout.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel Blackout by Keith R.A. DeCandido takes place during the '77 blackout.
- In an episode of Phenomenon: The Lost Archives (documenting the works of Nikola Tesla), it was suggested that a Soviet radio tower, broadcasting "noise" which had been labeled the "Russian Woodpecker" by the CIA, coincidentally ceased after a year of continual transmission prior to the blackout.
- The riot features in the computer game The Warriors as a level. The gang must loot shops, graffiti and then escape before the riot police arrest them, but instead the year being 1977 it is set in 1979.
- Jonathan Mahler's 2005 book Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning featured accounts of the riots and looting in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Likewise, news coverage and videos of riots were featured on an episode of The Bronx is Burning TV series.
- The Rosewood Fall, a Californian powerpop band wrote a song about the blackout titled "New York City Blackout".
- T.E.D. Klein's award-winning horror novella, Children of the Kingdom (1985), was set in part during the blackout.
- Part of Jackie Collins's 1981 novel Chances was set during the blackout and it's aftermath.
- The episode Heatwave of the series Swingtown used a similar blackout, based on the New York incident, in its fictional Chicago of 1976 as a plot device.
- Goodman, James (2003) Blackout New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
- Mahler, Jonathan (2005) Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning New York: Farrar, Straus and Girous