Lightning is an electric current. Within a thundercloud way up in the sky, many small bits of ice (frozen raindrops) bump into each other as they move around in the air.
All of those collisions create an electric charge. After a while, the whole cloud fills up with electrical charges.
Basically, lightning is a large over-scaled surge of current that finds its way from the sky and into our homes and business's. Sometimes we are there when it happens and sometimes we come home to the aftermath.
One day, scientists will be able to efficiently harness, store and utilize the vast energy that comes from lightning.
Lightning actually serves a good purpose. Lightning helps dissolve unusable nitrogen located in water, which then creates a natural fertilizer that plants can absorb through their roots.
Lightning also produces ozone, which is vital gas in our atmosphere. It helps shield the planet from rays of harmful ultraviolet sunlight.
Lightning helps the Earth maintain electrical balance. The Earth is recharged by thunderstorms. The Earth's surface and the atmosphere conduct electricity easily.
There is always a steady current of electrons flowing upwards from the entire surface of the Earth. Thunderstorms help transfer the negative charges back to Earth (lightning is generally negatively charged). Without thunderstorms and lightning, the earth-atmosphere electrical balance would disappear in 5 minutes.
Once a cloud system gets loaded with an electrical charge, it becomes highly volatile, in essence bursting at the seams.
If the clouds didn't routinely dump their charge, then the magnitude of it's charge could do thousands of times more damage than they do today.
Cloud-to-ground lightning comes from the sky down, but the part you see comes from the ground up. A typical cloud-to-ground flash lowers a path of negative electricity (that we cannot see) towards the ground in a series of spurts.
Objects on the ground generally have a positive charge and travel back up this created pathway.
Imagine thunder clouds that didn't routinely discharge into the earth. That accumulated amount of energy would be enough to destroy buildings, cities and their electrical grids along with them. Such damages would be cataclysmic.
Fortunately, this is currently not the case.
Just like dealing with sharks when navigating the sea, we have to learn how to get along with and respect lightning too.
But that doesn't mean that we have to feed them our precious electronics in the process.
There are several ways for lightning to enter your home. First and foremost, lightning comes in anyway it wants, but normally comes in underground or through over head wires.
A direct lightning strike is the worst. If it hits your home or office which most of the time can just burn the place down. Lightning can be 5 times hotter than the sun when it hits. If this happens get your family and animals out now and call 911.
Normally, lightning can travel no more than 20-25 miles away from a storm, in even exceptional cases.
However, a lightning strike in Oklahoma on June 20, 2007 was nearly 200 miles long. Lightning can strike in places that have no thunderclouds anywhere near your us. Thunder clouds in Phoenix could deliver a strike to our homes here in Flagstaff without even traveling across the utilities power grid system.
The reality is that more Lightning strikes hit open ground rather than buildings.
When this happens, Lightning will be looking for the path of least resistance. Which means it wants to find the best conductor to travel through until it is extinguished.
Once lightning has penetrated the ground it will find soil that has the most saturation of water in it as opposed to a dryer soil. More water in the soil (better conductivity), will move the dissipating lightning along faster.
When lightning moves through the ground, there is a certain amount of resistance and conductance within the soil based on the PPM (parts per million) of that soil. The higher the PPM the faster the lightning moves through the soil.
As the lightning moves through the ground, it intercepts conduits that feed your home or business. Once it penetrates a conduit, it jumps in the wire that feeds electricity to your meter. The bigger the wire the faster the lightning can travel into your home.
This is where the gloves come off!
Because lightning is a strange animal, it can pick one building to infiltrate, several or many.
Once the lightning gets into your wires that feeds your meter (your wire is an excellent conductor), the Lightning just found it's super highway to right to your electronics.
Then like magic, the lightning blows past your meter, blows past your breakers and comes out through your computers, refrigerators, TV's, appliances, heating equipment and the like.
Strangely, not all your equipment may be affected. It may take out a small or large portion of your electronic or in the worst cases, we have seen all of your electronics get taken out.
Lightning travels easier via over head service wires and can travel inside wires but, during lightning storms everything is wet, so lightning can travel down anything that is wet like boards, metal and along the outside of the the insulation of incoming utility's wires as well.
When lightning hits a tree, it can travel down through that tree following the moisture inside that tree. Because lightning can be hotter that the sun, it instantly boils the water and splits the tree open.
Just like when someone throws a wet rock into a hot fire, it will explode the same way.
Depending on the following:
* The distance the lightning actually hit the ground from your home.
* The actual voltage & current that entered the ground at that point.
* The distance that it traveled to get inside your home.
* The resistance it encountered moving through the ground.
While the direct lightning strike is the worst. The points above all factor into the amount and strength of the lightning that actually enters your home.
An extreme strike from a long distance underground could still be as strong as a strike with less intensity that was right next to your home.
Once lightning gets inside your home the amount of damage it will inflict to your electronics will depend on the actually level of voltage and current that the lightning entered your home at.
Your home's wiring has a maximum rating voltage of 600 volts AC. Most older electronics have a maximum rating of about 125 volts. However newer electronics ( ie., TV'S/computers), can have a 100-240 volt rating which has allowed for manufacturers to sale their products globally.
Say lightning enters your home at 10,000 volts with 10,000 amps; most all of your plugged in equipment at the time of the strike will be toast.
So now your equipment is gone and if your insured for this kinda thing, you might be covered minus your deductible.
Who checks your wiring in your home after a strike, which only has a max rating of 600 volts but was actually hit with 10,000 volts?
What happens if it's not checked because its hidden behind walls?
Well the insurance company will replace it if it was damaged but they wont pay to have the drywall removed and replaced just for a look see. That cost would all be on you.
So what do you do most people say if its working then leave it alone.
10,000 volts of lightning most likely will do damage to any wiring that is only rated for a 600 volt max rating. How much damage and where the damage is, is the real challenge and concern.
In speaking with numerous electrical engineers from wire manufacturers, they do not have a method to test for damage to hidden wires, but we have developed a way to do just that!
Here's the other part of the problem. If you suffer damages from Lightning and the Insurance company pays you money, that gets reported to C.L.U.E.
It is a credit reporting agency for you and your home or business that stays with the subject property along with your name for seven years. It is used to prorate your insurance rates going forward by your current and future insurance companies. Which means your rates will go up because you exercised your right to make a claim.
Now, as if your damages and the trouble it caused you weren't enough. Any damages that occurred to your location and whether or not you have been paid on them, must be disclosed by law those said damages or repairs to all potential buyers.
***If you fail to disclose lightning strikes or any other damages and the buyers find out, you can be sued for non-disclosure by the buyers.***
Lightning Arrestors are your first line of defense to help keep lightning out of your home and business and in check.
Critical path installations like NASA, CIA, FBI and the Cheyenne Mountain Complex military unit and many others all have extremely high end surge and Lightning systems installed.
These are all out of our reach.
It's easy to see how proper lightning protection can extend the life of our expensive electronics as well as save your valuable time down the road.
Chief Electrical Inspector Bob Sorenson for the City of Flagstaff, of almost 30 years was interviewed regarding lightning strikes here in Flagstaff.
When asked what his thoughts were regarding a home or business that has been struck by lightning.
Bob stated "In my opinion the building should be salvaged titled".