New York City residents were captivated by a strange blue light that flashed over the night sky on Thursday, setting off rumors of everything from an extraterrestrial visit to a transformer fire.
City authorities first alerted the public that an explosion and fire at a Consolidated Edison power plant in Astoria, Queens was behind the bizarre phenomenon, but Con Edison explained later on Friday that the event, which suspended subway service and temporarily closed down LaGuardia airport, was caused by a power surge that created an “electrical arc” in the sky.
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) December 28, 2018
Odd blue light over NYC
Onlookers tweeted images of the freak incident Thursday night from various vantage points in the boroughs. For an indeterminate time, the sky above New York pulsed with mysterious blue light as balls of fire floated in the sky. Smoke could be seen rising from the source of the light in a scene reminiscent of a UFO landing in sci-fi movie.
Video captured the moment the strange light eerily snapped shut like a light switch:
the NYC blue light suddenly went out pic.twitter.com/5EQ9do72J1
— macarena of time (@olekdotorg) December 28, 2018
While the incident led to jokes about films like Independence Day and Ghostbusters, not everyone was laughing. Some reported hearing explosions and thought that the city had been attacked by a bomb, and residents flooded 911 with calls asking what was going on.
One Astoria resident told the New York Post that she heard a “boom boom boom” and “ran out of our apartments like we were running for our lives.” Another said: “All I saw was a bright blue flame, like the sky lit up. I thought it got bombed. I ran away as fast as could.”
“I was on my phone and then the WiFi goes out and then the entire building goes black and everyone’s crowding around a window and I see this white-blue big ball of light and all of it goes dark,” another woman told CBS.
Con Ed “electrical arc” captivates NYC
But the cause turned out to be of this world and, in the end, harmless. The NYPD and FDNY tweeted on Thursday that they were investigating a “transformer incident,” and originally reported that there was a fire around 9 p.m. that disrupted the power grid, leaving home-owners with flickering lights, shutting off electricity to trains, and delaying flights at LaGuardia airport.
But NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio later confirmed that the light was caused by an “electrical surge” at a Con Edison substation that caused “scattered” power outages. Con Edison said they were investigating the cause of the fire Thursday before clarifying Friday that there was no fire, that FDNY had never been to the facility, and that a “surge” rather than a transformer explosion had caused an “electrical arc.”
Con Ed spokesman Bob McGee said the surge activated LaGuardia’s backup generator, causing flights to be suspended before normal service was restored. The airport was up and running around 11 p.m. with lingering delays. The MTA said that subway service on the 7 train was suspended between 4 Street-Broadway and Main Street for some time, with continued delays after power was restored.
“An electrical fault on a section of 138,000-volt equipment in one of our Astoria substations caused a transmission disturbance and a sustained electrical arc flash, creating the blue light people witnessed,” Con Ed said in a statement. “The equipment that malfunctioned is associated with voltage monitoring within the substation.”
Electrical arcs occur naturally in the form of lightning when electrical currents ionize gases in the atmosphere. Essentially, this power trip caused artificial lightning to illuminate the sky.
Con Ed is continuing to investigate the cause of the disruption.