Lightning Storm Safety
No one who understands the frightening power of lightning in a thunderstorm will argue that lightning isn’t dangerous. Severe weather advisories are given for a reason, and it’s best to follow your local weather stations advice for severe storms (with or without lightning). But protecting yourself is one thing, protecting your home, which is exposed to lightning strikes is another matter entirely.
Lightning bolts can travel over 25 miles, with the majority of that travel taking place through air (a common electrical insulator). While lightning will take the shortest path, small metal objects are unlikely to attract lightning that isn’t already coursing towards their location. Still, if you find yourself outside when a storm begins, it’s best to seek shelter as soon as possible.
When you’re indoors, you may feel extremely safe already. The rain is outside and, as long as you aren’t standing next to a window, even high winds shouldn’t be able to hurt you with hurled objects, but what else should you be on the lookout for?
Anything that provides a shorter path between lightning and its intended destination is a potential hazard. Electrical wiring and indoor plumbing are both major dangers. According to Ready.Gov, you shouldn’t even wash your hands during a thunderstorm (but please use some kind of disinfectant), let alone do dishes, shower, or wash clothes. The dangers of grounded plumbing in your home during a thunderstorm are fairly well examined, even to the point of being documented in Discovery Channel programming.
But electrical wiring and conductive conduits such as ventilation systems are also at risk during electrical storms. During a storm, it’s best to use battery-operated equipment if at all possible. Electronics which are directly connected to your power grid are more likely to conduct electricity to you during a storm. For this reason, it’s advisable to disconnect as many electrical devices as possible (or even switch off appliance circuits at the breaker) to protect them from electrical damage that can be caused during a storm.
In the event of a severe electrical storm, a lightning strike miles away from your house can be just as devastating as a strike nearby. While the municipal power grid has safety interconnects and lightning arrestors in place to help protect your home from strikes and grid outages, sometimes your home can be on the wrong side of those arrestors. A strike to the grid can, at best, cut power to your home for a while, or at worst it can send powerful surges which burn out connections or start fires.
Many people purchase small surge-protected power strips to defend against such surges. Unfortunately, larger ticket items (your TV for instance) are not always placed on these strips. Power strips are also rated for smaller surges. A powerful lightning strike has the potential to place a strain on your system that’s strong enough to damage multiple devices at once.
The best way to defend your devices against an electrical storm is to unplug them from the wall outlet. Another method is to install a whole-home surge protector or a lightning arrestor to mitigate or stop all damage caused by strikes to the electrical grid.
Of course, once a lightning storm has knocked out power to your home it could be hours (or in the worst situations, days) before power is restored to some city blocks. In these situations, a backup or standby generator can restore critical parts of your home, such as heating during the winter. Since they are a substantial expense, you should take the time to decide whether an electrical generator is right for your home.
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