Lightning Protection

Briefly, the best protection is a Faraday cage, which is like being inside a metal bird cage or a metal trash can.  The best property protection, the gold standard, the lightening rod, was invented by Ben Franklin.  Lightening rods come in many forms.  There is the copper (or other good conductor) rod, the gulf club, umbrella, or even you will do in a pinch.  In the high country of Colorado, above the tree line, YOU are just what that highly charged cloud is looking for, and people die up there every year.  If you even think such a storm may be brewing, the best thing to do is RUN as fast as you can to be below the tree line. These storms can develop in 10 min or so and not even look impressive.  It is deceptive – for they are not innocent showers but efficient killers. 


A lightening rod’s range of protection extends outward about as far as it is tall. Different designs seek to increase that range with an array of various art-form pointy protuberances. They probably make some minor improvement in protection.   A thick copper wire connected to the lightning rods goes from the roof down the side of the house and into the ground (often about 4-6 feet) where the charge is dissipated within a few feet. 


A home thus properly protected does not draw potential lightning strikes from a neighbor’s house and thus your neighbors get no protection from your system. It does not significantly increase the potential of your house being hit, it just influences where it will be hit and do the least damage.


If you are in area where there are trees, you do not want to be next to a tall tree, or the lightning might decide it has had enough cellulose and wants some meat, and jump to you.  If you are too far away, then you become the lightening rod.  My personal belief is to be about  2/3 the distance away from the tree as the tree is tall. Even better, don’t be outside.  Inside a car is relatively safe, although scary.  It is not the tires that protect you -- it is the metal frame and body.  Some golf courses have metal shelters on  the course to provided protection for stranded golfers. If you can hear the thunder and particularly if it is less than a mile away, you are at risk.  The probabilities are still generally small, but that is little comfort to the 100 people who die from lightning strikes every year.


The Empire State building’s top is ringed with lightning rods, yet roughly 1/3 of the strikes hit the sides of the building.  Lighting is not always cooperative.   The tortured paths of some lightning stokes are unexplainable. 


Planes get hit by lightning all the time.  Since they are not electrically grounded and all sensitive components are protected by a version of a Faraday cage, the charge is normally just bled off the aircraft by wires that you often see on the wings.  For the electricity for flow through you, you must be grounded.  That is why birds and squirrels can perch and climb on a power line.  They are smart enough not to touch another wire, or they would have no progeny.  


Boat masts are obviously an attractive target.  A lightening rod with a large cable extending down the mast to an overboard metal plate below the water line offers the best protection to those on the boat in the open water. 


Your home appliances, including refrigerators, thermostats, ovens, lighting,  television, and of course computers are very vulnerable to power surges from lightning strikes.  It is unlikely that your house will be directly hit, but it does happen.  It is much more likely that a utility line will be hit, even at considerable distance from you home.  The electrical surge can enter your home.  It is quite possible that many of your appliances will not be protected and even the little strips that you plug your computer into may not be sufficient.  However, many utilities either rent or sell a much more effective surge protector that can go on your meter or in your circuit box.  According to our utility department, Tallahassee residents do not have that option of better protection.  Bottom line - how you respond to the threat of lightning is another example of risk analysis and cost/benefit assessment.


Specifically :

·      Avoid open areas where you are the tallest thing around

·      Do not be near poles (trees) and especially metal poles

·      Get away from open water.  If in a boat, have it grounded.

·      Generally get away from tall objects

·      Don’t go fly a kite.

·      Don’t  carry and  umbrella, golf club, metal bat, or flag pole.

·      Get into a car if possible

·      If in an open field and not a car, get in a ditch. Do not lie flat or be on your hands and knees, but crouch.  Hiding in a metal culvert is good.


If you say an oath that something is true -- and it is a lie, well, you are toast, or so I have been told.