20 years ago Monday: 2003 blackout leaves 50M without power

Posted at 6:24 PM, Aug 14, 2019
and last updated 2023-08-14 08:28:06-04

(WXYZ) — Even 20 years later, people remember where they were and how the 2003 blackout affected them in metro Detroit.

There were no street lights, no traffic signals, gas stations open for business were hard to find, and the same with grocery stores.

On Aug. 14, 2003, a tree branch in Ohio fell onto a high-voltage power line, and that outage affected eight states from New York to Canada and Michigan. A software bug failed to re-distribute the overloaded transmission lines.

The weather was hot, tempers were flaring, water was a hot commodity with some people fighting over supplies.

People in Metro Detroit, Lansing and Ann Arbor were affected, and that led to crowded stores, packed restaurants, and overbooked hotels.

This was just two years after the 911 attacks so some people thought this was another act of terrorism.

The lessons learned, keep trees trimmed. We have power outages during storms because tree limbs bring down power lines. And the grid has been studied and improved so we are told this is not as likely to happen again.