Con Ed transformer explosion in Manhattan

A transformer exploded at the Con Edison plant on 14th Street in Lower Manhattan. Watch it happen above, starting at 3:00. (Thanks, Sean Ness)


  1. If I’d been watching that from across the river, I’d have thought that someone might have set off a briefcase nuke in Lower Manhattan. It wasn’t until the second run-through that I’d realized that a big chunk of the lights were gone when the fireworks were over.

  2. This is one of my favorite transformer meltdowns on youtube:

    Not so much for the arc or intensity, but that sound.  It just gives me shivers.

    1. I’m thinking of a prank gadget that would play that sound when some electrical device is touched, a lamp or power strip or something. Then again, that might wind up being just as deadly to the victim as an actual shock…

  3. Is there a reason there was 2 big flare ups? Was there multiple transformers, or is it because of how they’re designed?

    1. The same footage was looped two times. Look at the lights on the skyline before and after the “two” big flare ups. It’s the same one, repeated.

      1. What? But the first big white flare up lasts 4 seconds, the second one lasts nearly 10 seconds. They’re completely different in the way they flicker as well. Are you suggesting that the entire thing is faked?

        1. Not at all – the video plays twice, but the second playthrough is about half speed. At the very beginning, you can see someone walk in front of the doorway of the building in the foreground. At about 2:20, you see the same person walk across. If you jump between those points in the video, you can see the second time, the person is walking more slowly.

          1. Oh I see what you’re talking about. You viewed the footage from the very beginning. I, like I think a lot of people, just skipped to the three-minute mark, because that’s where the post told us the footage was.

            There are still two flare-ups, though (both in the regular speed and in the slow down). This is what I have been talking about and I presume what technobach was asking about. They seem much more distinct in the slowed down version that we were watching, but even in the original there are two distinct flares separated by about two seconds.

  4. Hopefully that wasn’t one of the classic transformers from the good old days when they filled them with PCBs…

    1.  Those have all been replaced by updated models using a type of mineral oil. The oil is non-toxic.

      1. Mineral oil is non-toxic. Correct. But they used to put PCB (also non-flammable, and reduces the flammabilty of non-mineral oils) in mineral oil transformers too. PCB increases the temperature/pressure range at which the oil is stable. Useful to elevates the flashpoint and stabilize oils at high temp.

        It was also used in hydraulic fluid, paint, and a number of other surprising applications. Look at transformers for the little blue sticker that says ‘No PCB (PCB <50ppb)". To know they're newer or have had the PCB-oil swapped out.

          1.  You’re sure much nearer to them than I am. I grew up near the Love Canal and have some familiarity with PCBs and the problems they caused.

    1.  I was thinking it looked like a 500lb smart bomb. Let’s start a rumor to get the tin-foil hat club lathered up!

      1. Sure, “vance_tam” whatever you say. Or should I call you Mr. CIA? I see right through your little disinformation campaign: make it seem like a manufactured conspiracy by planting the idea in various message boards, so when we truth seekers figure it out we’ll already have been discredited. Nice Try!

        1.  LOL! You made me smile. Thanks. Yesterday and last night were very stressful.

          But CIA? Not me. Hell, I can’t even fly, let alone work for the government.

  5. my roommate’s comment:  “good thing I don’t like New York.”
    but seriously, be safe up there, y’all

  6. Not to be *that guy* but it doesn’t look so much like an explosion as an arc fault with a little bit of fire. Scary, loud, and deadly up close to be sure but a true explosion would be an actual BOOM from vaporized mineral oil, like the one bcsizemo posted.

  7. Bear in mind that any sudden bright flash is highly exaggerated on a CCD balanced for night exposure. Aim a video camera at an unpowered lightbulb and turn on the light; you’ll see what looks like a supernova before the camera auto-adjusts. I didn’t witness this event but I’m pretty sure it didn’t look quite that dramatic to the human eye, at least not from way across the river.

  8. Looking at the Daily Dish coverage of the event (here and here), I suddenly realized “Oh shit, a lot of homeless people live in the tunnel systems”.  Man oh man…

    1. Make a petition to federal government that requires all surveillance cameras to be equipped with a full-HD sensor, auto orienting focused microphone and automatic youtube upload.

        1. It would also have to be mandatory by law that every such cam implements the following behavior:

          1) Automatically upload a clip when the recording parameters fall outside a statistical norm
          2) Set the title of the video to “OMG guys look what I just saw!!!”
          3) Set the video description to: “No really, it’s amazing, watch it already!”
          4) Add a single comment “I <3 heartz this video omgwtf"

          1. We really do need this. Sadly, it wouldn’t actually increase the rate at which similarly titled videos appear on youtube.

  9. What is even more mind-blowing is that most of the lights in the video stay on throughout the video. In other words, this massive explosion doesn’t even effect most of the city’s power. *tips hat to engineers*

  10. From the second floor in north texas, you can watch these things blow all night during the one or two days a year it’s cold enough to run the electric heater. 

  11. One of the biggest cities in the world, built right on the water, and yet the infrastructure can’t handle a large storm. Why is this?

    If the same storm hit Miami, no one would bat an eye. Why? Because Florida is used to it, because Florida plans for it, because Florida knows how to keep the infrastructure reasonably operational even despite the widespread terrible civic planning (or rather utter lack thereof).

    Preparedness is the key. New Orleans is a shell of a city today because they never expected to be hit with a strong hurricane. Hundreds of years of people living in what amounts to a swampy river delta BENEATH sea level, and in all that time they never thought to shore up their infrastructure to handle the sorts of storms that routinely strike their neighbor states. This is like being near the Ring of Fire, watching repeatedly as earthquakes strike nearby regions, but never doing anything significant to prepare for if one hits locally.

    Hurricanes aren’t going away. The entire eastern seaboard is going to have to learn to live with them, or be swept out to sea.

      1.  Actually, no. Hurricanes often make it as far as Maine, in fact. The oddity this time was the physical size of storm and its being drawn into a Northwest-to-Southeast jetstream pocket. That sort of pocket rarely occurs. That’s probably the main reason for the westward turn after traveling so far north.

        In addition, the storm passed over the still fairly warm gulfstream current and sucked in even more moisture and intensified.

        Most hurricanes barely graze the eastern tip of LI, while some roll over a large piece of LI.

        Ocean storms are complex since you’re dealing with not only the prevailing over water air currents, but also the ocean currents. When the storms approach land, then you get even weirder things happening.

    1. You just had to be That Guy, didn’t you? New Orleans was flooded not because they didn’t expect to ever be flooded, but because funding for the city’s levee system was cut by the W Administration. And, of course, in general, it’s difficult to make arguments for preparing for 100-year events politically, especially with so many cities and states financially strapped. It almost makes me wish that Miami were hit by an ice storm to see how they handle that. (I know that many southern cities, even those which regularly get at least a little bit of snow and/or ice every winter, essentially have no snow/ice removal equipment or plans to speak of; Memphis got hit by a severe ice storm about a decade after a similar storm, and thousands of people were out of power for weeks.) 

  12. I once saw a transformer blow, through a window from about a mile away
    Two large flares, bright as lightning, each with a bone-deep loud buzz.

    It’s the jarring sound I remember most.

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