Weather Gone Wild! Is Thundersnow (and Lightning) Making Your Winter More Frightening?

thundersnowFebruary 16, 2015 – It’s estimated that lightning strikes the United States over 20 million times each year. Given this amount of lightning activity, shouldn’t we expect to see a little lightning and thunder in the dead of winter? Interestingly enough, weather reports across the country have tallied quite a few incidents of “thundersnow” (a rare weather phenomenon that brings the unusual combination of thunder, lightning and snow) this winter. While hype about the phenomenon seems to be on the rise, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), thundersnow is so rare that it only occurs in less than one percent of observed snowstorms.

“Clouds are low in the winter so you don’t get that upward vertical motion that you get with your warm sector of thunder storms in the summer. It’s rare to have thunder and lightning in the winter. It usually means it’s a strong intense winter storm or a blizzard,” explained Kate Mantych, WDTV 5 News Meteorologist.

So what causes this weather phenomenon? The NWS explains that thundersnow occurs when lightning forms after an electric charge separation process in updrafts and downdrafts created inside a convective system. Enhanced air instability, a quick temperature change from surface to cloud, or a charge separation process can all trigger lightning and the ensuing thundersnow.

Since thundersnow is similar to a typical thunderstorm, it’s important to enlist the same safety precautions for spring and summer weather events. Staying indoors and away from trees still applies during thundersnow. Lightning occurring during thundersnow has been known to zap trees, homes, buildings and traffic lights and wide-spread power outages are not uncommon in these storms.  Restoration and repair of power lines in severe winter weather can be especially tricky when heavy snows impact travel and road accessibility. Thunderstorm conditions during winter storms can be harder to predict, as well. And while the average bolt of lightning can carry 100 million volts of electrical power, it’s virtually impossible to predict when and where lightning will hit and what its target will be. Lightning can strike miles ahead of a parent thunderstorm and linger several minutes after a storm leaves a specific area—which is why the NWS dubs lightning as “the first thunderstorm hazard to arrive and the last to leave.”

So just what is all of this lightning doing to our homes and buildings?  Well, here are a few scary statistics.

Each year, lightning fires are responsible for an estimated:

$450 million in home property damage

$108 million in non-residential property damage

$28 million in damages to storage facilities

$22 million in damages to places of assembly (churches and houses of worship)

$19 million in damages to hotels and motels

$15 million in mercantile and business properties (offices, shops and department stores)

$15 million in industrial and manufacturing facilities

$3 million in miscellaneous properties

(Source: National Fire Protection Association NFPA)

Lightning is an unpredictable weather threat, but mitigation doesn’t have to be hit or miss. The highly conductive materials used in a lightning protection system provide a low resistance path and grounding network to safely dissipate lightning’s dangerous electricity. When a lightning protection network is installed in accordance with national safety standards, lightning’s harmful electricity is intercepted and directed to ground without impact to the structure, occupants or contents. So whether the threat strikes in spring, summer, fall or even winter, lightning protection systems can safeguard vulnerable structures against nature’s underrated fire risk. Think of lightning protection as an insurance policy that provides an ounce of prevention against weather gone wild.

Lightning Protection for Storage Facilities Eliminates the “What if?”

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Lightning protection systems can be installed for large and small storage facilities, both during and after construction to safeguard structures and contents against surges, fire and explosions.

Lightning protection systems can be installed for large and small storage facilities, both during and after construction to safeguard structures and contents against surges, fire and explosions.

November 17, 2014 – What if you lost your valuables in a fire where no one was around for miles to report evidence of smoke or a blaze? Each year, millions of structures are damaged or destroyed by lightning.  While all types of structures should evaluate their lightning risk, storage buildings and facilities containing flammable substances and fire-susceptible materials can pose special concerns. Lightning strikes to these structures can ignite flammable vapors, resulting in a large-scale fires or explosions—losses that can be prevented when proper precautions for lightning protection are employed. With reports of lightning incidents at storage facilities and portable structures on the rise, insurance providers are taking a closer look at lightning protection options for these structures.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), lightning strikes cost nearly $1 billion in insured loses in 2012.  The I.I.I. puts the average lightning paid-claim at $6,400 in 2012, up 25 percent from 2011. I.I.I. reports state that damage caused by lightning, such as a fire, is covered by standard homeowners and business insurance policies. According to I.I.I. there is also coverage for lightning damage under the comprehensive portion of an auto policy. However, not all policies provide coverage for power surges that are the direct result of lightning striking a structure—which is why property owners should check with their insurance provider for coverage specifics related to lightning.

Fires caused by lightning represent a serious threat, but the risk is often overlooked by property owners.  A single bolt of lightning can generate up to 200 kA of energy, which can spark fires, damage roofing or cause surging through electrical circuitry.  A lightning strike to an unprotected structure or storage facility can cause catastrophic damage to the building and its contents.  Fortunately, there are relatively simple and inexpensive measures that can be taken to substantially reduce the chances of lightning-related damage.  Most types of storage structures are susceptible to lightning damage. According to the National Weather Service, there are three main ways that lightning enters buildings: 1) a direct strike, 2) through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure, and 3) through the ground. Lightning can also travel through structural steel framing and reinforcing rods in concrete walls or flooring. On the outside of the structure, lightning can travel along the outer shell and may follow conductive metal vents, roof drainage elements and external supports as it seeks a path to ground.  None of these building elements are designed to carry lightning without incurring damage.   

Property owners needn’t play the odds or risk losing their valued possessions to lightning.  A professionally-installed lightning protection system which meets U.S. safety standards of LPI, NFPA and UL will prevent damage and impact to a self-storage facility by providing a safe, low-resistance path into the earth for lightning’s electrical energy.

Lightning protection is one of the least expensive security measures you can purchase for your structures and storage facilities, yet it offers the best type of insurance—peace of mind to protect your property and valuables. If you don’t want to play the lightning odds, consider a lightning protection system. And if you do opt for lightning protection, don’t forget to contact your insurance provider to check your eligibility for base rate credits or discounts for having the system installed.

It’s Fire Prevention Week & Time to Remind Homeowners about Lightning; the Forgotten Fire Threat!

LPI began the "Building Lightning Safe Communities" initiative several years ago in Texas with Bonded Lightning Protection Co. LPI's new PSA features a fire chief as the "face" of its lightning safety campaign.

LPI began the “Building Lightning Safe Communities” initiative several years ago in Texas with Bonded Lightning Protection Co. LPI’s new PSA features a fire chief as the “face” of its lightning safety campaign.

October 8, 2014 – The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has sponsored Fire Prevention Week since 1922, which is believed to be the longest running public health and safety observance on record. Since 1922, the country has seen huge progress in the fire safety movement with the construction of fire-resistant buildings and improvements in fire suppression techniques. Unfortunately, fire still poses a significant threat to homeowners, as evident by these recently reported statistics from NFPA:

* A fire department in the U.S. responds to a fire every 25 seconds
* A residential fire occurs every 85 seconds
* Home fires account for $7 billion in property loss

But did you know that lightning poses a significant fire threat to homeowners, too? Lightning is an underrated and often forgotten fire threat, even though the most powerful electrical surges are caused by lightning. A typical lightning strike can pack up to 200 kA of electric energy (100 million volts of power), so it’s no surprise that a strike to an unprotected structure can pack a mean punch that can cost a homeowner thousands of dollars in repairs. According to a 2013 NFPA report, titled “Lightning Fires and Lightning Strikes,” fire departments in the U.S. respond to an estimated 22,600 lightning fires each year. These fires are responsible for civilian and firefighter deaths, injuries and approximately $451 in preventable property damage. If you Google the words, “lightning and fire” you’ll see news reports of these lightning incidents throughout the country.

Fortunately, a lightning protection system can provide a grounding network to protect a structure from these deadly fires, which is why lightning protection is meeting the needs of safety, technology and design. National safety standards for lightning protection (LPI 175, NFPA 780 and UL-96A) specify tested and effective solutions to protect a structure, its occupants, contents, equipment and operations. A complete system includes: strike termination devices, conductors, ground terminals, interconnecting bonding to minimize side flashing, and surge protection devices for incoming power, data and communication lines to prevent harmful electrical surges. Additional connectors, fittings or bonding for CSST gas piping may be required and surge protection devices for vulnerable appliances may be needed, as well.

LPI recognizes the NFPA 780 Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems as the most comprehensive resource for reducing lightning risks. The Standard includes 12 chapters and 14 annex sections to provide a thorough overview of design requirements and applications for lightning protection systems.

Fire Prevention Week is also the perfect time to remind folks about LPI’s newly released public service announcement which spotlights the severity of lightning’s destruction and promotes protection resources in conjunction with the Building Lightning Safe Communities campaign. Appropriately, the PSA features a fire chief as the expert “voice” to promote the campaign safety message. To view the PSA click here http://lightning.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/LSAW-PSA-v2.mp4

More information about fire safety and NFPA’s annual campaign is available at www.firepreventionweek.org.

This October, help LPI build lightning safe communities! Visit http://www.lightningsafe.org/partnerships.html to learn how you can make a difference!

September is National Preparedness Month and Time to Get Storm Smart about Lightning!

The lightning protection system on this vacation river home provides year-round security and peace of mind against a frequently-experienced weather hazard.

The lightning protection system on this vacation river home provides year-round security and peace of mind against a frequently-experienced weather hazard.

September 10, 2014 – September is National Preparedness Month (NPM) and the perfect time to sharpen your storm survival skills. Knowing what to do before the storm hits is often the most important step you can take in protecting your family, property and community.

The fall months are typically prime time for weather disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and thunderstorms. Since tornadoes are spawned by thunderstorms, they are often accompanied by intense lightning that can strike before, during and/or after a tornado passes. While lightning is not a normal occurrence in hurricanes, thunderstorms have been known to occur in the areas of highest vertical convection within the hurricane eye wall. Temperature swings that create extreme differences between cold and warm air can create especially severe thunderstorms in the autumn months. In turn, these storms can pose significant problems for homeowners in terms of heavy winds, downed trees, electrical surges and lightning fires.

Irrigation systems and security systems, invisible pet fences, computers and sensitive home electronics and generators are home amenities that can be especially vulnerable to lightning. An indirect or secondary lightning strike to a nearby tree or power line can also induce unwanted surges into a home. A direct lightning strike can carry over 100 million volts of electricity and generate heat in excess of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit which can rip through roofs, explode brick and concrete, and ignite fires.

The best way to prepare your home from lightning is to have a lightning protection system professionally installed. A properly installed lightning protection system will dissipate the dangerous electrical charge, taking it safely to ground, keeping the home and its occupants unharmed.

Lightning protection systems dissipate lightning’s harmful electricity through the following:

• strike termination network (rods or air terminals on the roof)
• down conductor network (cables or downleads)
• grounding electrode network (ground rods, ground ring or ground plates)
• equipotential bonding network (joining of components to ensure conductivity)
• surge protection (SPD’s installed at electrical panels and in-house electronics)

As always, LPI stresses the importance of contracting with a qualified LPI-certified and UL-listed lightning protection specialist to ensure that materials and methods of installation comply with recognized safety standards of LPI-175, NFPA 780 and UL 96A. Lightning protection installation is not a “do-it-yourself” project, so homeowners should never attempt to do this work themselves. Improper installation can lead to dangerous consequences.

Benjamin Franklin, the inventor of lightning protection once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” National Preparedness Month is a good time to examine your “prevention” checklist to best prepare your family, home and property for natural disasters; especially lightning–the weather hazard experienced by most people most of the time in the U.S.

Information about National Preparedness Month and the “Be Disaster Aware, Take Action to Prepare” campaign is available at http://www.ready.gov/september

Lightning Protection: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Ugly lightning protection is often characterized by sloppy and careless installation.

“Ugly” lightning protection is often characterized by sloppy and careless installation.

Good lightning protection installation is neat and inconspicuous and follows safety standards for materials and methods without compromising aesthetics.

“Good” lightning protection installation is neat and inconspicuous and follows safety standards for materials and methods without compromising aesthetics.

August 19, 2014 – The provocative title from the classic western starring Clint Eastwood just might reflect a theme that’s become all too common in the world of construction; and sometimes seen in the world of lightning protection, too.  How does a consumer separate the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to lightning protection? Here are a few thoughts on the topic:

The Good

Good lightning protection begins with a specification that calls for materials and methods in compliance with national safety standards of LPI-175, NFPA 780 and UL-96A. The installing company should also be listed with UL, and its contractors trained specifically in lightning protection.  LPI certification denoting, Journeyman, Master Installer, and/or Master Installer/Designer classification is important, as well. Company references and membership affiliation with industry organizations such as: the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the United Lightning Protection Association are also evidence of a “good” installing company. This type of company should have the professional experience to advise the customer and serve as an industry authority to ensure neat, aesthetically-pleasing and standard-compliant workmanship. The good lightning protection installer will also provide options and make arrangements for a third-party quality assurance inspection of the system.

The Bad

Most trades have their share of vendors who will sell, misrepresent or promise anything in pursuit of the all-mighty dollar. Unfortunately, the same can be said for lightning protection. Practices in the “bad” category range from use of unconventional and non-standard compliant products (some call these “gadgets”), to companies that make slick guarantees in proposals and marketing materials. Here are some tricks of the trade in the bad category:

• Use of lightning protection products or methods that don’t comply with nationally recognized U.S. Safety Standards of NFPA 780 and UL-96/A.
• Use of materials or methods not supported by independent scientists.
• Systems not eligible for a third-party inspection: UL Master Label, Letter of Findings or LPI-IP Master Installation, etc.
• Systems that don’t meet U.S. military standards and are not allowed for use on government projects.
• Vendors who make promises, claims and guarantees re: warranties and lightning quick delivery of third-party inspection certifications and close-out materials.

The Ugly

This category is a little trickier, and the “ugly” may be harder to spot to the untrained eye.  Evidence of the ugly is often seen in sloppy work, little attention to aesthetics and shortcuts in workmanship.  In terms of system installation, ugly often includes:

  • Dangling conductor cable that hasn’t been clipped securely to a structure or hangs loose from one roof level to another.
  • Strike termination devices (air terminals or rods) that are installed lopsided on the roof.
  • Use of aluminum materials when copper is compatible and is more pleasing to the aesthetics of the structure (or vice versa).
  • Down conductors or cable that is carelessly routed throughout a structure without attention to neatness or without regard to concealment.
  • Use of unsightly “flathead” or overly ornamental strike termination devices instead of inconspicuous and industry-standard blunt tip or tapered tip rods.

The Cure

The experienced, LPI-certified lightning protection professional will know how to guide the customer through the specification, design and installation process to ensure safety without compromising aesthetics. Here are some tips to help consumers eliminate the bad and the ugly when hiring a lightning protection specialist:

• Be sure contractors are listed with UL and hold certification with LPI.
• Installation is a specialty discipline; do not assume that roofers, general contractors or electricians are qualified to install lightning protection systems.
• All materials and methods should comply with U.S. Safety Standards.
• Check references to find out if your contractor has experience working on high-profile projects or experience comparable to your project i.e. historic structures, slate roofs, trees, etc.
• If you have CSST gas piping, ask about industry bonding and grounding requirements.
• Check for industry affiliations with groups such as LPI, LSA, NFPA, UL and ULPA which are trusted trade organizations for lightning protection.
• Ask for a written proposal and/or design detailing the work to be performed.
• Ask for a third-party inspection and request to be present during such.
• Ask for maintenance and close-out materials upon completion of the work.

It’s July and Lightning is Here! Are you Ready for Lightning?

Lightning protection systems can provide proven security and peace of mind for homes and businesses.

Lightning protection systems can provide proven security and peace of mind for homes and businesses.

July 14, 2014 – July is typically the most dangerous month for lightning in the U.S. According the National Weather Service, more than 30 % of all lightning deaths and injuries occur in July. Property losses are typically at their peak in July, as well with lightning losses ranging from fires which destroy entire structures–to surges that damage sensitive home electronics. According the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) lightning strikes cost nearly $1 billion in insured losses in 2013. In an analysis of homeowner insurance losses, the I.I.I. cited the average lightning-paid claim amount at $5,869, while the average cost of a home lightning protection system is $2,500.

Even though a single bolt of lightning can generate heat in excess of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit and a strike to an unprotected structure can cause catastrophic damage, the lightning risk is often overlooked. The function of the lightning protection system is often misunderstood, as well.

The highly conductive copper and aluminum materials used in a lightning protection system provide a low resistance path to safely ground lightning’s dangerous electricity. When the lightning protection network is in place, the lightning strike is intercepted and directed to ground without impact to the structure, occupants or contents.

A lightning protection system that meets national safety standards of NFPA 780 and UL96, UL96A includes the following elements:

* Strike termination network (air terminals or lightning rods)
* Down-conductor network
* Grounding electrode network
* Equipotential bonding network
* Surge protection devices (for incoming power, data and communication lines)

Failure to make proper provisions for special grounding techniques, or any of the above five elements can result in inadequate protection.

Dispelling Myths
Even thought lightning is the weather hazard experienced most often in the U.S., myths and misinformation about lightning protection persist.
July is the perfect time to reiterate a few facts about lightning and lightning protection:

My “whole-house protector” is all I need to prevent a lightning fire.
Contrary to popular belief, surge protection devices (SPD’s) cannot protect a structure against direct lightning strikes. While these devices are important components of a complete system to protect incoming utility lines against infiltration, on their own they do little to protect a home from lightning. However, when combined with a structural lightning rod system, (strike termination devices, bonding and grounding network) SPD’s can prove a valuable and effective means of protection.

Lightning rods don’t work and actually attract lightning.
Another myth commonly associated with lightning is that lightning rods attract lightning. In fact, a lightning protection system acts more as an interceptor of lightning, rerouting a strike and providing a safe path to ground for discharging the dangerous electricity. A lot of our critical facilities depend on lightning protection systems, so if they attracted lightning, we’d be in a lot of trouble, here.

I have tall trees that protect my home from lightning strikes.
The problem with a home nestled under a group of trees is where the best ground path for the lightning might be. Common metallic grounded systems within a home (electric, phone, gas, water) may provide a preferable grounding medium for the lightning. Therefore, lightning can actually “side-flash” from a tree and enter a home as it seeks a more conductive path to ground.

My home is high tech and is already grounded.
The average home is grounded to handle everyday electricity, but not the mega electricity (300 million volts of power) that lightning can pack. As the world becomes more and more tech-savvy, property losses from lightning strikes have actually increased.

I can install a lightning rod myself or get my handy man to put one on my roof. Lightning protection installation is not a do-it-yourself project. Only experienced and reputable LPI-certified and UL-listed lightning protection contractors should install lightning protection systems. Electricians, roofers and general contractors are typically unfamiliar with lightning protection requirements. Installations should only be performed by qualified personnel who are trained and certified in the installation of lightning protection systems in accordance with industry safety standards. Lightning protection installation isn’t a home science experiment.

Lightning rods are big and ugly and will detract from the looks of my home.  Lightning protection systems are everywhere and most are barely visible to the untrained eye.  An experienced lightning protection contractor will ensure the lightning protection system will not detract from the structure and will blend aesthetically with the roof and chimney composition.

While lightning can occur during any time of the year, July is typically the most dangerous month for lightning. Knowing the facts about lightning and lightning protection can help keep you and your family safe this summer. See http://lightning.org/learn-more/2014-lightning-safety-awareness-week/
for more facts and information about nature’s underrated risk.