Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Lightning and Electronic Devices Don't Mix

A friend of mine related that his home was recently hit by lightning and that many electronic devices, from expensive digital TV sets to his garage door opener were “fried.” The more he talked the more the shear power, suddenness and unpredictability of lightning became evident. The extensive damage that the strike wreaked on my friend’s house was made even more remarkable by the fact that he is one of the most knowledgeable electronics professionals in the area and often consulted on protecting sensitive electronic gear from lightning damage. So if it can happen to him, what about the rest of us?

Here in the Ohio Valley, electrical storms happen so often that we pay little attention to them. We have all read about staying off a wired phone and turning off computers and other digital devices. Few of us really do any of those things. In fact, most of us do the opposite. The sky gets dark, the thunder rumbles and we log on to weather.com or go to the TV set to see what the local super duper Doppler mumbo jumbo channel 66 weather radar looks like.

The power of lightning is nothing short of awesome. A single bolt can pack thousands of amps, have a temperature hot enough to turn sand into glass and reach speeds approaching the speed of light. Obviously lightning is not something to be messed with.

There are things that you can do to lessen the possibility of damage from a strike. There are buildings and tall towers that get struck several times in a single summer storm without incurring damage. They have protection. The simplest protection has been around for more than 100 years. You see it today on old farm houses and barns: lightning rods. They serve a very simple function. Lightning seeks to go to the ground and the most direct and less restricted path will be followed. Most of us don’t have lightning rods, but some of us do have roof top TV antennas. Make sure that they are grounded. If you don’t know how, find a professional to do it for you.

While the inexpensive power strips will provide some protection for your computer or TV from a lightning bolt traveling along the power circuits in your home, a direct hit can jump right through the strip. If you really want to protect the devices, they need to be unplugged from wall or power strip. Since our electric grip is so interconnected, a strike on a power line several miles away can produce surges in your incoming power from Duke Energy. The power company has been marketing a new service that attaches a surge protector to the incoming power lines. Contact Duke for details.

For sure, staying off a hard wired phone is a good idea. Your mobile phone is OK to use since it is no more likely to be struck than your body.

Use common sense and remember you have a better chance of winning an Olympic Medal that you do of being struck by lightning.

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