Big Blackouts in U.S. History

The Great Northeast Blackout of 1965: After a relay failure, more than 80,000 square miles (207,199 square kilometers) of the northeastern United States and parts of Canada lost power, turning the lights out on 30 million people.

The New York Blackout of 1977: One hot night in July, multiple lightning strikes knocked out power to the entire city of New York, leaving 8 million people without light or air conditioning. The blackout triggered mass looting and arson across much of the city.

The Blackout of 2003: Cities across the midwestern United States, northeastern United States and southern Canada lost power, apparently due to a problem with a series of transmission lines known as "The Lake Eerie Loop." Roughly 50 million people lost power.

Blackout Preparation

The risk of a blackout is always present, and while certain electrically powered appliances are mere conveniences -- washing machines and air conditioning, for instance -- others are much harder to live without, even for a few days.

The best approach, then, is to be prepared. By following certain tips, you can make yourself a bit more immune to some of the problems associated with extended blackouts.

  • Always have at least one large cooler and a supply of ice on hand. If you lose power for more than two hours, you'll need them to keep your food cool so you don't lose an entire refrigerator full of sustenance.
  • Stock up on water. If the blackout turns into a long-term disaster-type scenario, you may not have easy access to clean water. Store one gallon (3.7 liters) of potable water per person per day, for anywhere from three days (if you think you would evacuate) to two weeks (if you plan to stay at home through the blackout).
  • Create a general emergency-preparedness kit. In addition to water, this includes a first-aid kit, personal hygiene items, flashlights, copies of important documents, emergency contact numbers, batteries, a non-cordless phone and an extra supply of any necessary medications.
  • Stash some cash. In case of a major blackout, you probably won't be able to use a credit card to buy the things you need.

Hopefully, any blackout you experience will only last for an hour or two. But if it turns into a long one, following these tips should help you weather the storm.

For more information on blackouts, power grids, emergency preparedness and related topics, look over the links on the next page.