When Lightning Strikes, Are You Ready?

Lightning NSSL photo

Time lapse photography captures multiple cloud to ground lightning strikes, Source NSSL

We were all shaken out of bed this morning at 5:25. I’m pretty sure the house, or very nearby, was hit by lightning. I smelled electrical smoke.  Spent the last 2 hours walking around inspecting but could not see the strike.

Cable, Internet and phone still out. No AC on main floor and upstairs as well.  Just our room. The upstairs air handler is pumping but not cold. Downstairs is just dead. Checked all the circuits, a couple were flipped, I reset.  But no AC.

The central Vac was just running continuously. Weird. Unplugged that for now.

 [Jul 1, 2015, at 6:05 AM Mark wrote this Email]

My husband did not find a fire. And that is something to be grateful for.

Later, the electrician showed us where lightning likely traveled down the tree next to our bedroom, the bark stripped from its trunk onto the ground.

The electrical surge burst through the ground and followed wire, cable, and pipe inside, frying the circuitry, electronics, equipment, and systems on all four levels from basement to attic.

The thunderstorm hit July 1st and it is now August 4th;  over a month later, audio visual technicians are assessing the extent of the damage. Our main phones were fixed today, half the units destroyed as well as the phone’s computer, intercom, cameras, and doorbell.

The AC guy showed us the melted aluminum siding where an arc of electricity shot along the copper piping into the house. He said we were lucky our house didn’t catch fire.

Lightning AC melted siding

Melted aluminum siding from electrical arc along copper pipe into our house, on the far side of house where lightning hit

We lost our flat screen TVs, hot water, AC, electricity, Wi-fi, cable, phones, generator panel, our main PC, theater projector and components (damage assessment in progress), phone system, security system, garage openers, central vacuum.

My friend said that her neighbor’s home burned down from the storm. Things could always be worse.

The frustrating and expensive surprise was what was NOT destroyed: the whole house surge suppressor. We installed it by the electrical panels to protect everything. We also had one on the theater.

Neither worked.

The electrician all but laughed when I mentioned the house surge suppressor. Very little survives a direct strike. He also said we would notice things over the next three to four months, that some failures in circuitry take time.

It’s been 36 days. I’ve had time to reflect on what it means when lightning strikes in my life. I’ve listed things you can do and things you should know below.

But there are bigger concerns.

My husband Mark was an artilleryman and he’s experienced when it comes to noise and blasts. He said nothing in his life came close to this, that he fell out of bed on impact and the whole house shook. Our neighbor several hundred meters up the road said her children came running into her bedroom.

There is a silver lining to this dark cloud.

My family is alive. A typical lightning surge is between 100 million and 1 billion volts. Think about that a moment. For perspective, our residential voltage is 120 volts. The energy from one strike is about the same as that of a ton of TNT. (Source Extreme Tech on Lasers and Lightning)

Our house is still standing.

We went without a landline for a month. Kind of nice actually.

It makes me consider our lives in a new way. What’s important? I’ve asked myself this often. I thought about life as newlyweds, that our first house cost less than some cars on the road today; and about my life in the army, when I paid for my first car with a travel check (Temporary Duty pay).

Less stuff, less problems.

Big life, big problems.

It’s easy to understand this idea, but it’s another thing to live it. We have three children, houses, cars, furniture, art, bicycles, pets, TVs, computers, instruments. I remember the standard question about what you would take if you could run back in your burning home just once. What would you save?

Do you know?

* * *

Can I prepare for a lightning strike?

I thought we were prepared, but we were still hit hard and the damage is staggering.

Here are things you can do:

Routine backup of PCs (we use Backblaze and our data is backed weekly with them)

Surge protection – set up for each electronic/device and whole house; in latter case it didn’t help for direct strike but maybe it did countless times before.  (5 Things to Know About Whole House Surge Protection link)

Insurance – review your policy, our deductible is $10,000 and that may be high, but our theater projector costs more

Review all your digital and electronic devices – you will be amazed how much you have. My central vacuum panel is fried, the generator panel, the boiler panel, the garage door openers. Consider individual device surge protection.

Valuables – consider a safety deposit box

Archiving – scan and store important records, photos, documents such as passports, birth and marriage certificates; photograph or videotape art and family heirlooms and store externally

Lightning Rods & Protection – NOAA states “Lightning rods will not prevent your building from being struck. Rather the purpose of lightning rods is to intercept a lightning strike, provide a conductive path for the harmful electrical discharge to follow (the appropriate UL-listed copper or aluminum cable), and then disperse the energy safely into the ground (grounding network). (Source link National Weather Service on Lightning)

Should I be concerned about lightning? 

I’ve learned about lightning and it’s fascinating. (Source NSSL, link to FAQ about Lightning)

Lightning strikes the ground 25 million times a year in the US

Lightning can have 100 million to 1 billion volts, and contains billions of watts!

The odds of being struck in your lifetime (estimated to be 80 years) are 1 in 3000. This is orders of magnitude higher than winning the lottery. Yes, be concerned and prepare yourself.

The Earth benefits from lightning: maintains electrical balance, Earth is recharged.

Lightning Safety for You and Your Family

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!  Source link Weather Safety, Lightning NOAA, NSSL worksheet

Each year in the United States, more than 400 people are

struck by lightning. On average, between 55 and 60 people

are killed; hundreds of others suffer permanent neurological

disabilities. Most of these tragedies can be avoided with a few

simple precautions. When thunderstorms threaten, get to a

safe place. Lightning safety is an inconvenience that can save

your life.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

(NOAA) collects information on weather-related deaths to

learn how to prevent these tragedies. Many lightning victims

say they were “caught” outside in the storm and couldn’t get

to a safe place. With proper planning, these tragedies could be

prevented.

Other victims waited too long before seeking shelter. By

heading to a safe place 5 to 10 minutes sooner, they could

have avoided being struck by lightning.

Some people were struck because they went back outside

too soon. Stay inside a safe building or vehicle for at least

30 minutes after you hear the last thunder clap.

Finally, some victims were struck inside homes or buildings

while they were using electrical equipment or corded phones.

Others were in contact with plumbing, a metal door or a

window frame. Avoid contact with these electrical conductors

when a thunderstorm is nearby!

Aug 6, 2015

1 Comment

  1. Martha L Robertson

    We had a similar lightening experience in mid-April. TVs, cable boxes, coffeemaker, AC, outlets, PV monitor, game player, etc. all damaged. Also the central vac, just about my favourite thing in this merely 5-year old house. The CV guys fixed the main unit so I can use it by turning it on and off at the breaker switch. However, the low voltage wires are damaged somewhere within the walls, so I have no control with the vac handle, and the sweep inlet in the kitchen is virtually useless. Does anyone have any ideas about how to troubleshoot and/or replace the low-voltage wires within the walls? It likely means opening up the drywall but I can’t find anyone to even give me a quote for claim purposes.

About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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