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What in the blue blazes is that?
May 12, 2011 8:52 PM   Subscribe

A string of electrical transformers exploding in Fort Worth, TX.

From the YouTube description:

This is the aftermath of a pretty brutal thunderstorm in Fort Worth Texas on May 10, 2011. It was taken from my balcony on the 34th floor of a building in Fort Worth. Though I thought we were at war or was terrorism, it was a massive series of power transformers blowing. As I took it with my 70-200 2.8L IS lens, it is farther away than it looks. (it is 5 miles away) That is why there are not explosion sounds. This was a very well documented event. I was on my balcony to take lightning pictures (Yes, not smart) and this started happening in front of me. I turned my camera (Canon 5d MkII) to video mode and let it roll.

I have been reading the comments. I would like to answer some questions.
It is not fake. It is not doctored. (you are giving my video skills too much credit, thanks.) As you can see by all the other lights, it is not taken with an IR setup or something. It is simple a video of an expensive weather disaster. The explosions are along a 4 mile path. They look closer together because this was 5 miles away zoomed in.

If this was fake, I would have put in some good explosion sounds, not birds. (I probably could handle that technically.) This IS NOT FAKE IN ANY MANNER.

It is not a function of lens flair, though I do believe the rain made the illumination more visible than it would have been. What this video does not show well is that the clouds above were illuminated with it all.

I am prepared to have a lab analyze this video for authenticity. Believe me. What you are looking at is a video camera set up on my tripod on my balcony. Period. No colors added, not special effects, no sounds. I do not even know how to adjust a video for brightness or contrast. (I am a photo guy, not a video guy.)
Anybody doubting the facts only needs to check the news sources or the power company. (Encore Electric) for verification. Luckily, hundreds of people watched it all. I have video of lots of emergency vehicle arriving to deal with the resultant fires.
Also, this is actually just 1 of 5 videos I took. I will post the others when I get time. I am not sure this is even the best video I have. Too easy to verify it all.

For all of you that complimented my video, and believe it is what is seems to be, thank you. NOT FAKE. 100% Real. Stand by for my other videos. I am not saying doubters do not have a right to doubt. Just that they are wrong.

BTW, I did get my wife to reduce the file size of my video radically before I could squeeze it on to YOUTUBE without an error. (on her Mac i-video) My camera takes multi gig clips. It can only take videos for 4 minutes at a time before it overheats. (See Canon web site.)
posted by loquacious (48 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. I had a transformer blow near my apartment once (followed by a blackout) It was blocks away but it seemed to light up the sky (at least what I could see through my window) like daylight.

I wonder if the birds got confused and thought the sun was rising.
posted by delmoi at 9:01 PM on May 12, 2011


I keep expecting to hear:

d e c C G

d e c C G
posted by adipocere at 9:03 PM on May 12, 2011 [19 favorites]


Well... damn. That's something. Aurora borealis, TEXAS-style!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:10 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've seen transformers on lines blow, and I don't remember them being that spectacular. My guess is very large transformers at substations. Do a search on youtube and you can find other spectacular substation fires with huge fireballs and everything. I believe the guy!
posted by sbutler at 9:15 PM on May 12, 2011


That's really strange, it looks like a Floyd/Zeppelin laser light show gone awry.
posted by zardoz at 9:22 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I keep expecting to hear: d e c C G

I can totally hear it. It's right there.

Actually, watching this video did make me think of Close Encounters, but in a different way. If you were on the ground and in line of sight from one or more of those arcing/exploding you may actually get a sunburn and/or suffer eye damage from the intense UV radiation of what is basically just a really big arc welder on fire and out of control.

There's a couple of spots in the video where it looks like the light source is moving, and I'm guessing this is an arc traversing down the power line as it surges to blow up the next transformer. You can actually see the light source shift from a point source (transformer) to a much wider source of light (cable) and back to a point source (transformer again).

Now let's say you were driving down a fairly well populated country or suburban road with a power transmission line, and transformer cans every so many poles apart to feed stepped down power to the houses alongside the road, and lighting struck a pole a few miles back.

And then this chain reaction happened. It would probably look and feel like being chased by a UFO. It would be so bright you couldn't see straight and you'd effectively hallucinate and see things as your retinas were burning out. And you might even catch a sunburn on the side of your face as it "flew over head", effectively replicating the scene where Richard Dreyfuss makes first contact.

Conversely - Richard Dreyfuss' character in that movie was an electrical lineman, so he'd probably know what a transformer explosion was.
posted by loquacious at 9:23 PM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can someone explain to me why this was happening? Why were they blowing up so slowly and in an obvious line? My understanding of electrical transformers doesn't go much past "How It's Made".
posted by chemoboy at 9:26 PM on May 12, 2011


Does the surrounding area become uninhabitable after this? Or are PCBs not an issue?
posted by jewzilla at 9:27 PM on May 12, 2011


I've seen transformers on lines blow, and I don't remember them being that spectacular. My guess is very large transformers at substations

Ah, here's a google news cluster.

It appears a substation or line was struck during a heavy lightning storm and caused a chain reaction down the line. Maybe the line was struck multiple times.

The description of the video said that the area involved was about 4-5 miles wide, so however many cans and poles on about 8-10 half-mile long city blocks.
posted by loquacious at 9:31 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's actually a 'related' video with the close encounters song dubed over it.
posted by delmoi at 9:31 PM on May 12, 2011


That got more excitement out of Transformers than Michael Bay ever could.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:31 PM on May 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


I feel bad for the people who lost power, but it sure was pretty.
posted by rtha at 9:31 PM on May 12, 2011


Here's the Ft Worth Star-Telegram article.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:33 PM on May 12, 2011


Does the surrounding area become uninhabitable after this? Or are PCBs not an issue?

Hope not. I'm a block away from a transformer that exploded when a car struck the pole it was on. Well, they took the old one away, but got a new one in place within about 4 hours.

It made a big bang, but they didn't tell us we had to move out of our house.
posted by dhartung at 10:02 PM on May 12, 2011


They are designed to blow up, basically just big fuses.
posted by stbalbach at 10:04 PM on May 12, 2011


Are you at the airport? Why are there jet engines in the audio?
posted by smcameron at 10:19 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This happened when I was in upstate NY 20 years ago during an ice storm. It was pitch black when the power when out, and these VERY bright blue flashes would shine through the windows occasionally. So yes, these events are real.
posted by waytoomuchcoffee at 10:41 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


They are designed to blow up, basically just big fuses

No, they actually have big fuses there (some of which are pretty violent). They'd rather not lose a transformer.
posted by hattifattener at 10:47 PM on May 12, 2011


but fort worth still stands, huh?
posted by rainperimeter at 10:55 PM on May 12, 2011


Not strictly related, but it reminds me of this.
posted by Ahab at 10:57 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


or this
posted by hypersloth at 11:29 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I witnessed this same phenomenon in SoCal in the summer of '92, triggered by damage from the Landers earthquake. I had been working all night in the newsroom, went home in the wee hours and fell asleep on the sofa on my balcony in San Clemente. Woke up to the heavy rolling and shaking (nothing unusual for SoCal) in the half-light and started seeing explosions like this every two seconds or so a few miles off to my north. I couldn't hear anything, either. Because of the morning light, the explosions were not so spectacular, but they did noticeably light up the sky. The biggest difference was, they weren't multi-colored like this video. They were all – as far as I could tell – pale green in color.
posted by planetkyoto at 12:29 AM on May 13, 2011


A string of electrical transformers exploding in Fort Worh, TX.

FWIW

(Fort what? It's "Worth")
posted by hal9k at 1:06 AM on May 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can't understand anyone doubting OP on the reality of this video.

If any of us had lived in the era of arc lights (big in the late 1800s), the brightness of these would be familiar. Ever seen a spotlight sweeping through the sky and lighting up clouds?

Lighting is constantly wrecking transformers. I've seen a couple of these arcs (not explosions) off in the distance at night, never heard a noise.
posted by Twang at 1:09 AM on May 13, 2011


(Fort what? It's "Worth")

Doh. Typo-fix request submitted.
posted by loquacious at 1:41 AM on May 13, 2011


I've always loved Texas' Explosions in the Sky. They're actually playing near me next week but I've no way of getting to see them which is total balls. What I'm going to do in the meantime is watch this video with the sound off and listen to "To West Texas".
posted by longbaugh at 3:27 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are there jet engines in the audio?

I think it's air-conditioner noise.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:34 AM on May 13, 2011


Appears to loop back to the beginning at 1:51. Still awesome though.
posted by odinsdream at 5:38 AM on May 13, 2011


Does the surrounding area become uninhabitable after this? Or are PCBs not an issue?

What are you talking about?
posted by odinsdream at 5:40 AM on May 13, 2011


PCBs have not been used in ballast manufacture since the late 1970's, and most of the old ballasts with PCBs have since been replaced - although some are still in use.
It is true that when PCBs burn, the combustion products include dioxin and are therefore very toxic. But chances are, these particular ballasts were not of that type.
posted by grizzled at 6:04 AM on May 13, 2011


What are you talking about?

He's talking about polychlorinated biphenyls, a man-made material that is a persistent environmental pollutant. While none of the stuff has been made in the US, there are still transformers in use that contain PCBs.

I think the comment was an ironic reference to the Japanese nuclear meltdown.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:13 AM on May 13, 2011


none of the stuff has been made in the US since 1977,
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:14 AM on May 13, 2011


When I was a kid, a car hit a pole a couple blocks away, resulting in a transformer exploding and power lines falling. What this video doesn't give you is the noise. Standing in my yard at night, looking over the tops of the houses at the insane light and sound show, it really seemed like alien electric death had come to Earth.

Pretty fucking cool.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:20 AM on May 13, 2011


This was the best explanation I could find of why transformers explode, but I still can't find any explanation as to why so many were failing in an almost predictable fashion. Was lighting hitting the power grid repeatedly, miles away, in many different places? Were these backups taking over only to be struck by lightning themselves?
posted by chemoboy at 7:47 AM on May 13, 2011


Many utilities started testing transformers for PCBs and replacing them. Seattle City Light developed an inexpensive testing procedure using a self-drilling screw to collect samples. The expensive part is the disposal. Even if they are testing, they may be leaving the units in service.

About 20 years ago, during a record snowfall and cold spell, there were a lot of transformers blowing up. At night, you could go outside and every 2 -5 minutes there'd be another flash and really loud boom. What was going on was many people were using electric heat more than normal. You could see some of the transformers smoking from the overload. Some would catch on fire and then explode, some would just explode. It's really loud.
posted by warbaby at 7:52 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


the ehow article is not quite accurate.

The overload causes resistance heating, which then burns the insulation (the oil is an insulator as well as a coolant). When the insulation fails, an electric arc forms. It's super hot and boils the oil, which bursts the can and then the hot oil mist burns in the air. High power arcs cause the explosive expansion of just about anything that is or can turn into a gas.
posted by warbaby at 8:04 AM on May 13, 2011


High voltage electricity is crazy. I bet that cascading failure cleaned the utility company out of their reserve stock of transformers. No profits for the shareholders next year.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 8:06 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


chemoboy writes "This was the best explanation I could find of why transformers explode, but I still can't find any explanation as to why so many were failing in an almost predictable fashion. Was lighting hitting the power grid repeatedly, miles away, in many different places? Were these backups taking over only to be struck by lightning themselves?"

Because the grid is a grid rather than a tree when a couple transformers serving the same area blow the additional load on adjacent transformers can cause them to overload and blow to leading to a cascade. Heavy rain is usually a factor as it can lower the effectiveness of open air circuit breakers by soaking the insulators.
posted by Mitheral at 8:33 AM on May 13, 2011


Why are there so many different colours? Green, red, orange, blue, purple. I can believe the video itself is oversaturated, which is magnifying the hue, but why different hues in the first place?
posted by Nelson at 9:04 AM on May 13, 2011


Years ago, a pole mounted electrical transformer blew, right behind my apartment. It was blue white, brighter than the sun for a moment. The video reflects what this would look like far away.

The fact that it went on for so damn long is what amazes me. I would have thought that the system would automatically shut down - maybe the transformer failures prevented that from happening, or the fact that it started at a substation.

Very nice light show! Once you get over the scariness of it.
posted by Xoebe at 9:06 AM on May 13, 2011


I honestly made this face. I may still be making it.

Would anyone care to sit me down, and hold my hand, and explain to me why the light is mostly blue, with some orange bursts, and then occasional glimpses of different colors? Is it because different gasses are being ionized? Or because different levels of current are causing each bout of ionization? Please to hope me!
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:07 AM on May 13, 2011


Holy shit, that's just a few miles down the road. I wonder which building he's filming from. There's not that many buildings with 34 floors here.
posted by kmz at 9:32 AM on May 13, 2011


This happened when I was in upstate NY 20 years ago during an ice storm. It was pitch black when the power when out, and these VERY bright blue flashes would shine through the windows occasionally. So yes, these events are real.

That ice storm was my first memory!
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:59 AM on May 13, 2011


evidenceofabsence writes "Would anyone care to sit me down, and hold my hand, and explain to me why the light is mostly blue, with some orange bursts, and then occasional glimpses of different colors?"

Just guessing: Pure electrical explosions are mostly blue light. I don't know why but I've seen a few small ones close up and of course arc welding and lightning both throw off blue/white light. The other colours are probably from contaminants in the particular explosion. Much of the orange colour will be from burning transformer oil either directly or from when a transformer that is on fire blows up and spreads flaming oil all over the place. Copper compounds often give off a blue or green light when burnt so that could be one source of contamination giving the green colours.
posted by Mitheral at 10:59 AM on May 13, 2011


Because the grid is a grid rather than a tree when a couple transformers serving the same area blow the additional load on adjacent transformers can cause them to overload and blow to leading to a cascade.

I understand it's a grid, but I still fail to understand how come we can't design power systems where failure in one area does not produces failures all across the grid. I try to imagine it's like water pipes. If the pipe breaks in one area, or there is too much pressure on a valve, you shut the problem part off. When your water travels at the speed of light it must be hard (impossible) to stay ahead of the problem. There still has to be a better way.
posted by chemoboy at 11:28 AM on May 13, 2011


I still fail to understand how come we can't design power systems where failure in one area does not produces failures all across the grid.

For the most part, we do. Cascading failures are the exception, not the rule. But the closer you operate to the limit of the system, the harder it is to absorb sudden events without more things failing. I'd guess there are engineering calculations somewhere along the lines of, "Well, we can set the breakers at 1000kA, or we can keep the power on until 1100kA but run the risk of multiple failures if something does blow."
posted by hattifattener at 12:33 PM on May 13, 2011


chemoboy writes "There still has to be a better way."

Besides money being a factor you have to trade off false negatives with false positives. Take your own house for example. You probably only have GFCI in your kitchen and Bathroom and Arc Faults in your bedrooms. Despite both of these technologies being an improvement in safety they both cost more than conventional plugs and, GFCI especially, experience nuisance trips where the circuit shuts off when no dangerous condition exists. And they don't play well with each other so you can't put GFCI plugs on an arc fault circuit (if anyone makes a combination device they must be hideously expensive). It is better to lose the occasional transformer or even a whole series of transformers to a freak event than to be schlepping out to transformer breakers to reset them after a nuisance trip. And the former is more acceptable to your customers than the latter.

Of course sometimes a circuit breaker tripping in Ontario takes out takes out power to 30 million people but that kind of wide spread failure is rare.
posted by Mitheral at 2:23 PM on May 13, 2011


the ehow article is not quite accurate.

Note this is because it was written by a non-expert for $15.
posted by Phalene at 8:04 AM on May 14, 2011


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