1.37 million still without power on East Coast.
“The storm came in with no warning, no one had time to prepare,” Gregg Edeson, a partner in the global energy section of PA Consulting Group and a former utility lineman, said in a phone interview. “The lightening in these storms went after the transformers which affects a wider area than trees falling on power lines.”
It’s not just crazy Newt Gingrich who’s been warning about this for years, but lots of pretty rational sounding scientists. There are ways to beef up our electrical transmission system to minimize the danger (several proposals for doing just that were included in the then-unspent “Stimulus” fund) but nothing’s been done and probably won’t be.
One day, 1.37 million people without power for two weeks is going to seem like chump change. Google “EMP solar storms” for a vast collection of articles on this subject, if you need anything to worry about over the holiday.
UPDATE: Hell, even the NYT acknowledges the threat.
 The electric grid, which keeps beer cold, houses warm, and city traffic from turning to chaos, depends on about 2,100 high-voltage transformers spread throughout the country.
But engineers in the electric business and officials with the Department of Homeland Security have long been concerned that transformers are vulnerable to disruptions from extreme weather like hurricanes, as well as terrorist and computer attacks and even electrical disturbances from geomagnetic, or so-called solar, storms. One such storm, in 1989, blacked out the entire province of Quebec, and this week, a transformer fire of unknown origin blacked out parts of Boston.
And while replacing transformers is not technically difficult, it is a logistical and time-consuming nightmare that can take up to two years.
UPDATE II: Reader “John” sends along this link: The Canadians learned from their experience and have done something about it.
On March 10,  a strong wind left the Sun, heading for Earth. On March 12, the first voltage fluctuations were being seen on the Hydro-Québec transmission grid. The System Control Centre was doing what it could to maintain stability. However, on March 13 at 2:44 a.m., the Earth’s magnetic field was fluctuating violently. The grid’s protection system was triggered, and a blackout occurred in less than a minute! The province was submerged in darkness for more than nine hours.
Hydro-Québec strengthens its grid
Shortly after this blackout, Hydro-Québec organized a task force to analyze the events and propose corrective measures. The following measures have since been applied:
- Recalibration of protection systems and raising of the trip level. This tactic has proven effective, seeing there have been very intense magnetic storms since 1989 but they have not caused any problems.
- Establishment of a real-time alert system that measures disturbances on the power grid during magnetic storms.
- Modification of power system operating procedures. In the event of a disturbance, Hydro-Québec reduces power flow on lines and direct-current interconnections, and suspends all major switching operations.
- Installation of series compensation on power lines to enhance grid stability. This measure has been very effective in mitigating the impact of magnetic storms.