When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City on October 29, 2012, most of Lower Manhattan lost power.
The explosion lit up the Manhattan skyline. A sudden boom, a one-two punch of yellow light—then everything went black. After Hurricane Sandy shoved water into Con Edison’s 14th Street substation in October, causing electricity to arc between capacitors, about a quarter million customers were left in the dark. Video of the high-voltage spectacle quickly went viral: It became an early, brilliant symbol of the massive storm system’s most pervasive and inescapable affront—a total and lingering loss of power. Across the U.S., as far west as Indiana and from Maine to North Carolina, Sandy caused hundreds of other mass outages. A tree blown down, wires ravaged by wind, a flooded power facility—each event had rippled out to affect homes far from the point of failure. The blackouts continued for weeks afterward, thwarting the region’s recovery.