back to article And in current affairs: Rogue raccoon blacks out city power grid after shocking misstep

Folks relying on mains-powered alarm clocks had an excellent excuse for turning up late for work on Friday in Seattle – after a raccoon knocked out power to a chunk of the northwest US city. On Thursday evening, the marauding mammal made its way onto the property of municipal power generating company Seattle City Light and, as …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Possums on the list?

    Poor, slow moving, tree climbing little bastards leave their carcasses all over the place.

    1. Mayday

      Re: Possums on the list?

      A customer from a previous life was a telco who also manages the power grid. They use substations for placing of comms gear, and underground ducts and poles which are shared with power to install fibre and other cables.

      One day I had to go to a substation site to do some work on the comms gear. As you can imaging, in this environment there is a substantial induction process to work around multiple 66kV systems, cabling and the like. Unfortunately for a common ringtail possum, it was not privy to said induction and I saw the remnants of one across the terminals of the primary of a transformer within the substation.

      All that was left looked like a tube of grey fur with nothing inside of it. It almost looked as though it was something you would need made or milled somehow. It didn't even look "damaged", just a hollow grey furry tube.

      This mishap did not cause any blackouts nor do I think anything tripped (not that I'm aware). I am guessing (I'm not an electrical engineer that controls power grids, just a network architect commsy guy) that the arc was within tolerances for this system and it was able to carry on.

      1. HieronymusBloggs

        Re: Possums on the list?

        "I am guessing....that the arc was within tolerances for this system and it was able to carry on."

        I wonder how many deca/hecto/kilo possums would be required to trip the system. Cue for another El Reg unit of measurement?

      2. Brenda McViking

        Re: Possums on the list?

        If an animal or tree branch causes a short-circuit fault on a high voltage line like this, the system probably will temporarily trip (whether it does depend on the fault level but also the time a given fault level is present) but you have automatic circuit reclosers (ACRs) on such lines which will deliberately close onto the fault, and try 2-4 times to do so. Simply because, the amount of energy going through it will likely frazzle the thing to a crisp to the point where it stops being a conductor anymore, and there is no further problem to the system - most faults are transient, not permanent. After a few tries though, it will stay off.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Alan J. Wylie
    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The other Large Hadron Collider incident

      I remember this being explained as "The Universe makes it impossible to measure the Higgs Mass, so it will try ANYTHING to sabotage the attempt". That was a rather bizarre "nastyverse" explanation.

  3. Jay Lenovo

    Furry Vengence

    Raccoons and squirrels covertly working for the Amish Al Qaeda.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Furry Vengence

      Is there any proof that these Raccoons didn't come from Canada?

      We need a (very low) wall to protect America from Canadian Raccoons

      1. CanadianMacFan

        Re: Furry Vengence

        Considering it wasn't that long ago (mid-June) that a raccoon was climbing a 20+ story office building in Minnesota you might want to rethink that very low wall.

        When we build the wall to keep the Americans out of Canada we will ensure that there are plenty of "cat flaps" to allow our raccoons continued access to the US so that they can keep up their ongoing campaign of mayhem.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Furry Vengence

          But if these are Canadian Racoons then a small wall with a polite "keep out" notice would be enough

          Canadians do sometimes accidentally invade America and have to be dealt with by force.

          1. John Sager

            Re: Furry Vengence

            We saw a raccoon in Stanley Park when over there a few years ago. Not, perhaps, unusual, but Stanley Park would make a good base for the Special Raccoon Service Regiment for running ops in Washington state...

    2. Robert Helpmann??

      Re: Furry Vengence

      Raccoons and squirrels covertly working for the Amish Al Qaeda.

      You mean Es Fundament?

      Mine's the one concealing a live opossum attack squad.

  4. Tromos

    The squirrels usually end up with roasted nuts

  5. Rob D.

    Critical pun density

    Do I even need to read the article, given the headline and sub-text?

  6. Rob D.

    Cooking with, er, electricity

    > animals and electricity don’t mix

    They do if breadcrumbs and a berry jus are involved as well.

  7. a_yank_lurker

    Kentucky Fired Squirrel

    Actually had this happen a couple of times when a squirrel decided to become a KFS and take out a transformer. The bang of the fuse going when you are maybe 20 feet away is rather loud (it is a gunpowder charge so someone will hear it and call it in).

  8. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Are you SURE it's dead?

    My experience with raccoons:

    Steps on a rat trap - curses and continues destroying vegetable garden.

    Hit by a flying bar stool when it walks into the kitchen - leaves then comes back in 15 seconds to see if you're still mad.

    Hit in the face full-force with a hardwood club, knocking it out of the kitchen so hard that it slams into the yard fence - wimpers, curses, comes back tomorrow.

    I'm not confident that a flash of a few MJ actually killed it. It's probably just resting until it cools down.

    1. Andy Mac

      Re: Are you SURE it's dead?

      You don’t have any prosthetic limbs in the house do you?

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

        Re: Are you SURE it's dead?

        Upvoted for that reference!

        I have no prosthetic limbs yet.

    2. JLV

      Re: Are you SURE it's dead?

      2 fighting with Dobermann:

      dog’s losing

      dog owner assists pet - ignored

      dog owner returns w baseball bat? raccoons leave, unhurriedly

      They look cute, but getting bitten by one means rabies shots and the ones most seen by tourists in Stanley Park are right next to a cliff where people have died falling.

      1. Stumpy

        Re: Are you SURE it's dead?

        JLV Wrote:

        They look cute, but getting bitten by one means rabies shots and the ones most seen by tourists in Stanley Park are right next to a cliff where people have died falling.

        'Falling' ... or were they pushed by little rodenty hands?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are you SURE it's dead?

      Ours was very dead.

      We had a power outage during good weather a few years back. We waited a bit but we were still blacked out so called the power company after making sue we didn't have a tripped main breaker in the box or fuse on the pole. Power company operator said "are you sure? nobody else has reported a problem."

      When they sent someone to check on it, he saw the breaker feeding the pole transformer had tripped. And while he was up in the boom truck fixing it, he looked down and said. "There's your problem" as pointed at the dead raccoon in the tall grass by the power pole.

      A few years later they installed a band of metal flashing around the power poles up near the wires. I don't know for sure, but it would seem to sized right to make a good squirrel and raccoon guard.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Are you SURE it's dead?

        "A few years later they installed a band of metal flashing around the power poles up near the wires"

        In New Zealand _EVERY_ pole has one of these. Tasmanian ringtailed possums like to climb poles and they really don't know how to conduct themselves once they reach the wires.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Are you SURE it's dead?

          "they really don't know how to conduct themselves"

          I'd say they conduct quite well.

  9. Frumious Bandersnatch

    reduction by induction...

    Induced electrical fields, winding numbers, inverse square law, ... thinking of things from the squirrel's point of view, a minor hair-raising incident followed by a slightly-painful static discharge is probably going to be enough to induce a kind of negative magnetism against the HV air gap that was going to be its original LZ. Like an RFID bug zapper.

  10. Sven Coenye

    There is only one crispy raccoon

    That would be procyonid, then. (And I finally get to use that icon :-)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If only there was a way we could build a structure without room for these animals to get in.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "If only there was a way we could build a structure without room for these animals to get in."

      In my experience it's virtually impossible to stop them getting in, but you can increase the spacings so they can't get across the conductors or between conductors/earth.

      Alternatively (as mentioned above) you can arrange the supply to be beefy enough that it just shrugs off the arc and carries on.

  12. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    Can a 'coon (dead or fried) have Linux installed on it?

  13. Ivan Headache

    Clever Raccoon

    At long last an opportunity to recount something the lovely Ivana & I encountered while holidaying in Fort Lauderdale.

    We had some time to kill and decided to go for a walk in the Hugh Taylor Birch state park while we were there. On the road up to the gates there are some signs saying 'Don't feed the raccoons'. As Brits, we had never seen a raccoon so we asked the ranger at the gate if it was likely that we would see any of these creatures that we must not feed..

    She replied that as it was early evening it might be possible as they would be waking up to go foraging in the next hour or so. Anyway after an hour we hadn't seen a raccoon, just some birds and the odd roller-blader and our time was up for going to retrieve the kids so we set off walking back.

    As we passed the ranger on the way our she asked if we had seen one. Perhap's another half hour?

    We didn't have the time so we wished her good day and set off down the road back to East Sunrise Blvd.

    As we were walking down, a creature akin to a young badger in size & colour came out of the undergrowth, crossed the entrance road and disappeared into the undergrowth on the other side about 30-40m ahead of us. No sooner had it disappeared than several more appeared crossing the road randomly ahead of us and going into the undergrowth.

    At last we've seen a raccoon - several raccoons. It did cross our minds to wonder why they were all crossing the road at the same time and in the same direction. Logic said food, but what do we know about raccoon behaviour?

    Where the park entrance road meets the boulevard there is a set of stop lights and a wide grass verge between the footpath and the roadway.

    There was a queue of cars waiting at the red light as we came on to the boulevard.

    On the grass verge were half a dozen or more raccoons lined up begging.

    One of those sights the both of us will never forget.

    There's no need to put the signs up in the park, the clever raccoons get take-aways delivered!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Clever Raccoon

      True, the little varmints are extremely clever. I would never feed one though, because then tomorrow you will find two on your doorstep, looking for a handout.

      (Mine is the coat and coonskin cap hung by the door.)

  14. mark 58
    Thumb Down

    This is not news worthy ....

    I was a transmission operator in the Deep South for over 3 years and animal caused black outs on a very regular basis. Squirrels, snakes, turkeys, raccoons, possums, etc etc..all get up on outdoor Distribution and Transmission buses shorting phases and causing "differential" trips on the breakers.

  15. StuntMisanthrope

    Weasel News, Dear boy!

    Back after the break with stoat sport and the weather sponsored by Partly Cloudy. #cyrilsneer

  16. Chairman of the Bored

    Long streamers?

    Been near an arc flash. Just about emitted my own long streamer. Cannot blame birds for same but it makes me question the causal relationship...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Someone call the BOFH.

  18. Mr Dogshit
    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "animals and electricity don’t mix"

      Ahem, I give you... the electric eel.

      (Runs away giggling.)

    2. paulf

      That story is a classic - I've just been quietly crying with laughter at my desk, getting funny looks from the boss:

      "A metal thief who was seriously injured after sawing through a cable carrying 11,000 volts has been ordered to carry out 140 hours of unpaid work. [...] Paisley Sheriff Court heard how Durnan was left "looking like the professor from the Back To The Future movie". [...] There was an explosion as he sawed through the cable at about 06:50. [...] Despite being severely injured, Durnan managed to go to a nearby house for help and was unable to talk."

      Can you imagine a mute Doc Brown showing up on your doorstep, smouldering away? That does suggest a real prize though - connecting politicians and irritating schlebs to an 11kV line might stop them talking also.

      1. disgruntled yank


        One of my high school classmates had a notion for copper theft in the Colorado foothills. At each end of a cable, a man with a sufficient cutter; on an agreed signal, each makes a simultaneous cut. It did not sound practical. I don't think he ever tried to put this into practice, for I didn't hear of him suffering death or injury in the several years before I left down. He was quite serious about the idea, though.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "Can you imagine a mute Doc Brown showing up on your doorstep, smouldering away?"

        One thing which doesn't get mentioned much is that in such cases people frequently smell delicious (think: roast pork)

  19. Trilkhai

    Bah, 6,000's nothing…

    Seattle is lucky. Last weekend, about 18,000 houses in my city as well as the municipal water pumps lost power for 3-4 hours, and so far all PG&E has told people is that the incident somehow involved a bird. (How that was possible, or whether it should even be possible in the first place, hasn't been explained yet.)

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rocky Raccoon

    Now the doctor came in, stinking of gin

    And proceeded to lie on the table

    He said, "Rocky, you met your match"

    And Rocky said, "Doc, it's only a scratch

    And I'll be better, I'll be better, Doc, as soon as I am able"

  21. EveryTime

    It takes a relatively small fraction of the energy available to completely toast an animal.

    The problem is that they light an arc, which can conduct that power.

    The reason for the gunpowder in a fuse is to blow out the arc that forms. There are other designs, and they use physics that few of us have encountered in our daily lives (e.g. a magnetic blow-out).

  22. Huw D

    Don't mess with raccoons. Pick on the wrong one and you'll have a very angry tree on your case (if the raccoon hasn't shot you first)

  23. IanDs

    The first real-life test our UPS got where I used to work in Maidenhead was when a cat got into the local 33kV substation and took out the power to the entire industrial estate. At least they think it was a cat, it's not that easy to tell afterwards...

  24. 89724102172714582892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    We don't actually own the lives of every creature on earth - this was a damn disaster for a poor raccoon attempting to live it's life around pesky damn humans who are pillaging the entire planet and billowing pollution and trash absolutely everywhere. The sooner we realise we live in a spaceship, the better. It's too fukcing late of course. We'll be fukced fairly soonish like the dinosaurs before us.

    1. NumptyScrub

      We don't live in a spaceship, we live on a rock, inside a maelstrom of (mostly) smaller rocks, floating around a giant unshielded nuclear reactor.

      People being callous about a self-immolating raccoon is the least of your worries, trust me. ;)

    2. HieronymusBloggs

      "humans who are pillaging the entire planet and billowing pollution and trash absolutely everywhere."

      Posted from a computer that didn't require any minerals to be mined and processed, and running on non-fossil-fuel electricity, no doubt.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not the first time a raccoon has taken out the power in Seattle

    This seems to happen here not infrequently. I recall this as the next most recent incident:

    I'm constantly amazed that more isn't done to raccoon-proof substations here in Seattle. Not because of the inconvenience to tens of thousands of powerless humans, but out of love and a desire to protect the raccoons.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    i'm not clicking the link unless there's a suggestion there'll be jubs in the video. i dont even care if its raccoon jubs.

  27. JPeasmould

    Sheep on the overhead lines

    A few years ago (just after privatisation) I got a wee job counting computers for a Scottish power supplier. They seemed to have lost their entire IT asset register.

    Anyway, I arrived at a small engineering station on South Uist, took a note of the ports on the one PC they had and was about to leave when a crew arrived from repairing overhead cables, laughing as they came in, stinking of burnt mutton.

    They had just removed a sheep that had blown off the hill onto the overhead cables.

    Apparently it wasn't that unusual in winter.

    As the wind had got up again, my flight back was cancelled so I booked into a local hotel. I arrived and was about to get out of the car when the barman ran out and shouted at me to turn the car around. I did as he suggested and found I couldn't open the driver's door. I climbed out the other side into a blast of wind that nearly took me off my feet. He told me he had recognised the hire-company number plate and new the insurance didn't cover doors being ripped off by the wind (something that had happened to another guest the previous week).

    I loved camping in the Outer Hebrides last year - but wouldn't want to do it in winter.

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