Lightning Safety and Lightning Protection: Separating Fact from Fiction

Just in time for Lightning Safety Awareness Week, the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) separates fallacy from fact to debunk a few common myths about lightning safety and lightning protection. (PRNewsFoto/Lightning Protection Institute, Shutterstock)

Just in time for Lightning Safety Awareness Week, the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) separates fallacy from fact to debunk a few common myths about lightning safety and lightning protection.

LPI Debunks Common Myths in Support of Lightning Safety Awareness Week  

MARYVILLE, Mo., June 19, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — As new and old myths about lightning continue to circulate through the internet and social media, it’s hard to know how to separate fact from fallacy about lightning safety and protection measures. In support of Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 19-25, the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is emphasizing the importance of protecting people, property and places against lightning, a deadly, yet often underrated weather threat.

“A general misunderstanding of lightning protection combined with an internet increase of unscrupulous vendors pitching false claims about new lightning prevention devices has created a recipe for a lot of consumer confusion,” said Bud VanSickle, LPI executive director.

To increase awareness about the dangers of lightning and provide the public with safety information, the National Weather Service (NWS) launched National Lightning Safety Awareness Week in 2001 http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov

“Despite the wealth of accurate information on lightning and lightning safety, there are still many myths and misunderstandings that persist,” said John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist for NOAA/NWS.

Just in time for Lightning Safety Awareness Week, LPI separates fallacy from fact to debunk a few common myths about lightning safety and lightning protection:

Fallacy: Rubber tires and rubber-soled shoes protect you from being struck by lightning.
Fact: Rubber tires and rubber soles provide NO protection from lightning. When lightning strikes a vehicle, the steel shell and frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. (Lightning’s electricity travels along the metal shell and frame and into the ground.)

Fallacy: Metal attracts lightning so you shouldn’t wear metal or hold a cell phone in a thunderstorm.
Fact: While metal conducts lightning’s electricity, it doesn’t attract it, so the presence of metal makes no difference regarding where or when lightning strikes. People are struck by lightning because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time—anywhere outside is unsafe during a thunderstorm. Holding a golf club or cell phone does not increase one’s risk for being struck, which is why the NWS advises: “When thunder roars, go indoors!”

Fallacy: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, and structures like the Empire State Building and Willis (Sears) Tower are zapped numerous times a year. The earth experiences 100 lightning flashes per second and the U.S. alone has more than 40 million lightning strikes each year. Thunderstorms occur virtually everywhere, putting people and structures at risk http://lightning.org/learn-more/watch-learn/#video-1 Lightning strikes in low lying areas, as well as in higher elevations which is why lightning is considered the weather hazard “most commonly experienced by most people in the world.”

Fallacy: Lightning rods are outdated and a thing of the past.
Fact: Lightning protection systems are installed more today than ever before. Smart structures that feature a high degree of automation and interconnected systems and rely on sophisticated energy collection methods can be at special risk. Lightning can initiate a domino effect path of transient overvoltage which can disrupt, degrade and damage multiple electronic systems and connected equipment. With the growth of sustainable energy technology and eco-friendly building prompting upgrades and improvements to the electrical infrastructure of today’s homes and buildings, lightning protection is increasingly relevant and important.

Fallacy: A whole-house surge arrester can provide adequate protection against lightning.
Fact: Surge protection is only one element of a complete lightning protection system. A single bolt of lightning can generate up to 200 kA of electrical energy, spelling disastrous consequences for an unprotected structure. No surge protection device or “whole-house” arrester alone can protect a structure from a direct strike, which is why a grounding network for lightning (lightning protection system) must be implemented along with surge protection to provide a safe, conductive path to discharge lightning’s electricity.

Fallacy: Lightning protection is simple and easy to install yourself.
Fact: Lightning protection system design and installation is complex and not a do-it-yourself project. Installation is not typically within the scope of expertise held by general contractors, roofers or even electricians–which is why the work is typically subcontracted out to specialists.  LPI-certified experts who specialize in lightning protection and utilize UL-listed components and equipment should be hired to design and install these systems to make sure materials and methods comply with national Safety Standards.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), whose mission is to improve the public understanding of insurance–what it does and how it works–offers consumers guidelines for hiring a qualified lightning protection provider:  http://www.iii.org/video/how-pick-lightning-protection-system

The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is a not-for-profit, nationwide group founded in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and education and is a leading resource for lightning protection information and system requirements. Visit the LPI website at http://www.lightning.org for more information.

More information about the 2016 Lightning Safety Awareness Week campaign is available at http://www.lightningsafetycouncil.org

Photo –  http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20160617/380818

CONTACT: Kim Loehr, LSA/LPI Communications Office, kiml@lightning.org