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The Power of Lightning

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Lightning detection systems in the United States sense an average of 25 million lightning strikes per year.  According to the National Weather Service, during the 30 year period of 1979-2008, lightning killed an average of 58 people each year.  Documented injuries average about 300 per year, although undocumented injuries are likely to be much higher.  The odds of being struck in your lifetime (estimated at 80 years) are 1 in 3000.

 Lightning is extremely powerful, and can have from 100 million to 1 billion volts, and billions of watts.  You don’t have to be directly struck to be hurt.  The current may travel through power or telephone lines to a person who is in contact with electric appliances, tools, electronics, or a corded telephone. Lightning can also travel through plumbing pipes and water to a person in contact either with a plumbing fixture or a person in water, including bathtubs, pools, and the running water of a shower.  Lightning affects the many electrochemical systems in the body, so people struck by lightning can suffer from nerve damage, memory loss, personality change, and emotional problems.  Since it does not always kill the person, there is a national support group for lightning and electric shock survivors.

 The best defense is to plan ahead and avoid exposure to lightning when a thunderstorm occurs. Know where safe shelter is located and leave enough time to reach safe shelter before your danger level is high.  Get lower than other objects near you, and don’t be connected to anything that may be an isolated tall object.  Do not seek shelter under a tree.

 While it is difficult to quantify lightning losses, it is estimated that $4-5 billion in damage occurs each year. Likewise, the cost of lightning protection to safeguard critical equipment and facilities from lightning strikes during severe weather is enormous.

If your building suffers a direct or indirect strike from lightning, you should have an electrician inspect your entire system.   Here are some general guidelines for that inspection.

  •  Check breakers to insure they function properly and open the circuit in an over-current situation.
  •  Check the building’s wiring with a resistance tester. This will tell if the high voltage induced by the lightning has damaged the insulation to the point of failure.
  •  Visually inspect all devices (outlets and light fixtures) for any signs of arcing.  Be sure to include all telephone, coaxial and other low voltage systems because they can sustain damage which may result in performance problems with them.

 If you have questions about surge protectors or lightning protection, give us a call at 317-271-1099.   We’ll be glad to advise you or to assist you.

 For more specific facts about lightning, you can visit the website of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration http://www.nssl.noaa.gov.  A number of the facts in this article came from that source.

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