How Should I Prepare for Lightning Storms?
Lightning storms, severe storm systems that produce frequent cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, can cause serious damage to structures, trees, power lines and consumer electronics. They may trigger fires or damage tree limbs, which in turn can cause even more structural damage. When local weather stations warn of impending lightning storms, there are a number of actions a person should take in order to protect his or her life and property. People and animals should be moved inside, if possible, away from windows. Electronics should be unplugged so there is no chance of them being damaged by power surges.
One important step to take before lightning storms arrive is to move all living things indoors. Pets, livestock, and family members all need to be under enough shelter to remain dry, warm, and protected from the elements. Standing under the tallest object in an open area, such as a tree at a golf course, is never a good idea, however. Lightning tends to strike the highest point that will lead the electrical charge to the ground. A covered picnic pavilion or the inside of a car would be much safer during lightning storms than a tree or open field.
The same precautions a person should take for any severe weather event apply to lightning storms. A weather radio with a battery back-up should be turned on for regular updates on the storm's location and intensity. Candles or battery-powered lamps should be readily available in case of a power failure. Family members should remain in lower levels of the home and stay away from windows. Strong lightning storms often put down significant numbers of lightning strikes and loud thunder, so younger children and pets may need extra attention until the storm subsides.
Many people who own consumer electronic devices such as home computers, stereo systems, DVD players and so on should already have those devices plugged into a power strip featuring surge protection, but there are those who don't. During lightning storms, a direct lightning strike on a nearby power line can cause a temporary surge in electrical power entering the home's outlets. A surge protector should automatically detect and filter this extra energy, but appliances plugged directly into unprotected sockets can suffer damage. Before a lightning storm arrives, a person should completely unplug all unnecessary electrical appliances and electronic equipment not protected by a surge protector.
Some home owners invest in lightning grounding systems in order to protect their property during a lightning storm. If a lightning bolt does strike the house, a grounding wire will draw the electrical energy away and into a remote part of the property. The installation of a properly grounded lightning rod can also discourage lightning from striking the roof or a nearby tree.
Fortunately, most lightning storms leave distinctive images on modern weather radar systems, so meteorologists can generally warn viewers of a dangerous storm's predicted path and intensity. Some radar systems can even detect individual lightning strikes within a storm systems and warn specific areas of the potential for danger. The time to take precautions is long before the actual arrival of the storm, however. Once lightning begins to hit an area, it may be too late to save electronic equipment from receiving damage.
If a driver cannot find suitable shelter or drive out of a dangerous storm system, remaining in the car would not be a bad idea. A car will act as a Faraday cage during a lightning strike, meaning the electrical energy would be directed around the car's exterior, but occupants would remain safe and insulated. The main goal during a strong lightning storm is not to be the tallest target in the area and to stay away from natural conductors such as standing water or metal fences.
Get good surge protectors for all your electronics. These are often built into power strips and are a good investment, since lightning can really beat up on electronics like the TV and computer.
Otherwise, get your butt inside and stay there! Don't sit on your front porch and wait for the lightning to strike you. And stay away from windows. And don't go storm chasing, either. Leave that to the professionals, who still get killed while chasing, occasionally. Just stay inside and keep your ear tuned to your weather radio, in case the lightning storm is upgraded to something more serious, like a tornado warning.
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