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Lightning strikes spark protection measures

Posted July 7, 2008
Updated July 8, 2008

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— With all the severe weather lately, some people might be wondering if they can protect a home from a dangerous lightning bolt.

"Normally lightning will strike the tallest object around,” Darin Figurskey, with the National Weather Service said.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service Office for central North Carolina in Raleigh track lightning strikes.

"In a one-hour time frame, there were nearly 1,200 lightning strikes,” Figurskey said of Sunday's storm in the Triangle.

That is an average of 20 strikes a minute.

"We will see instances, like this, with storms usually on a few occasions during the summer," Figurskey said.

Research is being conducted at the National Weather Center in hopes of better predicting when lightning will strike. Until then, firefighters urge everyone to protect their home from the damage lightning causes.

“We certainly recommend that a fire alarm system be installed in your home if you don't have one, with an emphasis on a heat detection system inside your attic spaces,” said Battalion Chief Peter Brock, with the Raleigh Fire Department.

Lightning is attracted to water, Brock added.

“When there is a lightning storm, we don't recommend people take a shower or a bath. Don't do the laundry or the dishes. Wait until the storm has passed,” Brock said.

Lightning can strike a home without setting a fire. In many cases, electronics are at the greatest risk.

Firefighters recommend unplugging TV's, computers and other electronic devices or get surge protectors.


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  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Jul 8, 2008

    Beachnut, the problem with tall trees is that they will attract electrical charges to the ground, causing a change in ground potential. I have 75-foot pine trees all around my house, and when a thunderstorms go directly over my property, I sometimes lose some phone equipment despite the fact that I have surge protections on electrical, phone, and CATV lines in the house. Unfortunately, even though the phone line from the AT&T/Bellsouth junction (at the street) is grounded to my home (and checked by the phone company), it is not shielded. So I believe that is where the ground potential differences are being introduced into the home.

  • micah Jul 8, 2008

    Properly installed lightning rods DO "attract" lightning...Lightning that was going to strike in the immediate vicinity anyway! I grew up in a house at the top of a VERY tall hill. The house (and especially the chimneys) were about even with the treeline. The house was directly struck several times a year. So were some of the trees around the house, which died. Rods were added to the peak of the roof and the chimneys. The house is still directly struck several times a year (once just two weeks ago) and it is carried safely to the earth. We haven't had a problem in 35 years.

  • fkhaywood Jul 8, 2008

    It is not the heighth of the object that attracts lightning, it is the 'quality' of the ground. Lightning takes the path of least resistance to ground; that is why if lightning strikes a tree that has a fence attached or right beside it the lightning will travel down the tree until it gets to the fence and then jumps off onto the fence to ground-fences are better conductors than trees.
    Don't assume that any licensed electrician is an expert in grounding or lightning protection-many electricians don't understand electricity, they only know how to wire up things.
    For the record, I am an retired Electrical Engineer with over 30 years experience in the electric utility industry.
    Most lightning problems involving TV's, telephones are the result of items connected to both CATV & power, or Tel & power not grounded to the same point as power and you end up with a voltage difference between the separate grounds involved. This is required by the National Electrical Code.

  • Beachnut Jul 8, 2008

    Possibly the best protection is to have tall trees around your property, just not too close to the house. Of course, you don't find many trees at all in a lot of the newer subdivisions around the triangle. The several homes i'm aware of that have been totaled by lightening in the last few years sat on treeless landscapes. In the midwest, people plant trees specifically for lightening protection.

  • FatCat Jul 8, 2008

    Lightning Rods actually attract lightning. You don't want to do that. I keep a few very tall trees around my house....those are my lightning rods. "Lightning is attracted to the highest object in the vicinity". That's the science to remember. Tall skinny pine trees, 10-20 feet taller than your house are what I suggest, but they too have to be 25 feet back or so, because the bolt can arc from a branch to your house.

  • mrtwinturbo Jul 8, 2008

    I used to have more problems with "brown outs" than anything else, (a severe drop in voltage) this can damage equipment just as well, so now my $2500 plasma TV is plugged into a UPS for a little more protection

  • lmwcat10 Jul 8, 2008

    For someone who has no protection at all what is suggested? Do I need rods for the overall house and a whole house surge protector from say Progress Energy? I want to protect electronics but more would like to keep the house from burning down from a strike. Looking of the answer if anyone can educate me? Do I need all or both?

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Jul 8, 2008

    Invest in a whole-house surge protection at the main panel. Have a surge protector at the equipment end (TV, DVD players, etc.) Ensure your phone and cable TV lines have surge protectors. Check to make sure your home electrical grounding is correct. Will require a certified electrician to check the electrical system.

    For the ultimate protection, you can have fiberoptic cables, but these are sparse at the moment from Time Warner or AT&T/Bellsouth to the homes.

    charlesboyer, a layered defense strategy is the best, where one should not rely on just the whole house surge protector. You still need a good surge protector at the equipment-end. I ended up separating my computer network from the phone/CATV cabling by setting up FDDI concentrators and fiber cables for the computers. A high-end UPS is used to shield the computers from the rest of the electrical system.

  • LocalYokel Jul 8, 2008

    Too many people don't understand science and its a shame that the news is all dumbed-down too. Why was there no mention of lighting rods in the article?

  • charlesboyer Jul 8, 2008

    "Besides, something is better than nothing and if it is damaged during a strike, it's cheaper than a computer!"

    This is true, but people spend a lot of money on these things and never think to check them again. That was our experience in years of field trials anyway.

    BTW, a wadded-up 100 foot extension cord that has a three-prong plug offers basically the same protection as a cheap strip protector. We used to use that as a show-and-tell trick in the lab using a KeyTek ECAT surge tester with oscilliscopes to show that induction through the wires was nearly as effective as a $30 surge protector.

    Me, I use transorbs with MOVs acting as failsafes in my circuit. Most electrical strikes come from induction from a nearby ground strike and buried cable -- be it CATV, POTS or eletrical. The avalanche diodes have incredible speed, but their weakness is current capabilty, which is where the MOV is handy.

    Thing is, Sidecutter is right -- something is better than nothing.