July 1959 Electronics World
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
Electronics World, published May 1959
- December 1971. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Lightning season is upon us once again.
Weather Service says June, July, and August, are the most active lightning
months in the U.S., which is probably true in all of the northern hemisphere, and
then December, January, and February in the southern hemisphere. According to the
National Safety Council, the average American has a
1:114,195 chance of being killed by lightning in a lifetime (which ends abruptly
upon being killed). That's much less than your chance of dying due to cancer
(1:7) or being killed in a car accident (1:102), but is sucks if you're that one
in 114,195. Not all lightning strikes are fatal, but many cause personal and
property damage. Mitigating the chance of being harmed requires taking some
simple actions to not expose yourself to danger in the first place (don't be
outside or touch grounded metal objects during a lightning storm), and to
otherwise employ schemes and devices that prevent lightning discharge in your
proximity and/or that safely directs its current to ground through an
appropriately sized conductor rather than through your body or property. Many
thousands of articles have been written on the subject. Here is another.
Facts About Lightning Protection
A property originally worth over $15.000. less than 20 minutes after being
struck by lightning. It was burned to the ground.
By Sidney C. Silver Service Editor, Electronics World
What is lightning? What makes it? Is the hazard real or rare? Is effective
What does this mean to the TV owner or technician?
Lightning is as inevitable a part of the human experience as the earth and
the sky that collaborate to create it. No corner of the world is immune to it.
Yet knowledge concerning these outbursts of Nature at her most dramatic and
most violent is generally inadequate or incorrect.
Many characteristics of this phenomenon will be appreciated better by the
electronic technician than by the electrician. With some cause, the public has
come to make some sort of association between lightning and television. As an
area of interest for the service technician, overlooked though it has been,
the matter of protection is a "natural" that goes beyond the simple association
Lightning and its effects are more widespread than is generally realized.
It does not move in the direction or manner that is generally believed. Objects
most vulnerable during a thunderstorm are often believed to be the safest. The
storm conditions and periods when hazards are highest are not widely recognized.
How much do you know about these celestial bursts of frenetic fury? How often
does it really cause trouble? Is effective protection truly possible? How big
is a bolt? How many volts of violence does one pack? If you know the answers,
you are in scant company.
The development of a thunderstorm, meteorologists tell us, involves the intrusion
of a mass of relatively cool air over a layer of moist, warm air hugging the
earth. Every high-school physics student knows that warm air tends to rise above
cool air. This upward motion generates a formidable amount of static electricity,
with the upper masses of moisture becoming positively charged and the lower
portions negative. It is the latter cloud charge that concerns us.
Below this negatively charged entity is a great body of air, effectively
a dielectric. Still farther down is the earth itself. In essence, we have an
enormous capacitor with the earth forming one plate. With a negative charge
on the opposite plate, the shell of the earth becomes positive under a gathering
storm cloud. (Under such a cloud in an open field, you may feel your hair stand
on end. If you do, dive for the nearest ditch or hug the comforting earth!)
Fig. 1. Based on U.S. Weather Bureau data, this map shows the number of
lightning storms occurring over a 20-year period in various parts of the U.S.
For the giant dielectric to break down, an almost irresistible attraction
must build up across it. Indeed the cloud-to-earth potential builds up to millions
of volts - perhaps a hundred million. At last, opposition collapses and a ferocious
stroke of lightning streaks upward.
Yes, upward. Positive to negative current? Well, not exactly. Actually little
leaders - fingers of lightning probing for a weak spot - dart down irregularly,
often running horizontally for thousands of feet, at only a few thousands of
miles per minute. This "slow motion," which we can see, gives us the impression
of downward movement. When a leader makes contact with the earth, the current
path has been completed. The blinding flash that follows is the main stroke,
hurtling skyward at over a million miles a minute, too fast for us to see motion,
faster than a satellite in orbit. The rapid heating, and ionization of air molecules
in its path produce thunder.
During what part of the storm is lightning most ferocious? Nature speaks
with her most terrifying voice at the beginning of her outburst. The charge
has built up to its highest peak and the lower air is driest before the storm
breaks. As the ensuing downpour develops, the damper air is a better conductor.
Thus the lady vents much of her rage in the first wild shriek; then grumbles,
mutters, and finally quiets.
A main bolt may be miles long and about as thick as a man's waist. It is
likely to do less damage if it comes later in the storm. Such earthbound objects
as trees and houses are less likely to be damaged when struck as they become
increasingly wet, since they are better able to pass the charge to ground.
Isn't the likelihood of lightning striking someone or something rather small,
actually? You can draw your own conclusions from available statistics. The map
of Fig 1, based on data compiled by the U. S. Weather Bureau, shows the number
of lightning storms that have occurred in various parts of the country over
the last twenty years. Some areas average over a hundred a year, other as low
as five or ten. No area is immune. The number of strokes in each storm can only
Also consider this: The National Board of Fire Underwriters, in assessing
the causes of all fires in rural and suburban areas, indicates that lightning
is the villain in close to 40 percent of these! It is responsible for almost
as many as the next five leading causes combined. What's more, a lightning-caused
conflagration can differ in degree. As in the case of the photo at the beginning
of this article, a stricken property can be utterly devastated before the owner
has had a chance to recover from the initial shock.
We have mentioned that probing lightning leaders seek out earthbound weak
spots to complete the path. It is generally known that anything projecting up
from the ground is such a weak spot. It may be a church steeple, a tree, or
a flagpole. It may be a TV antenna.
Aware that unprotected antennas may invite lightning, many people take the
precaution of insisting on antenna lightning arresters and, if they don't, their
conscientious service dealers are likely to urge these devices on them. When
properly installed, these arresters will prevent the antenna from inviting disaster.
However, except in the case of the relatively small home, these legitimate safeguards
give some people a false sense of security. The area under the antenna that
will be protected is relatively small.
A carefully planned, over-all system is needed. Yet, even with such an installation,
many people tend to ask: "How effective are protection systems? We hear of so
many cases where lightning has struck in spite of safety devices." For the answer
to this one, we go to another agency. Underwriters' Laboratories, Inc., on the
basis of its own extensive records, reports that a lightning protection system
is 99 percent effective - if it is properly planned, constructed, and installed!
A defective system may actually have an effect opposite to the one sought, however,
in that it can increase the hazard.
How does one know that a particular installation is properly completed? The
Underwriters' Laboratories issues individually registered and numbered master
labels on satisfactory systems. The inspections on which issuance of these labels
are based include the materials used as well as the completed installation itself.
For those interested in safeguarding their properties, no over-all system without
such a label should be considered. Also, the presence of this label is often
a determining factor in insurance savings.
A protection system is not always as simple as is often thought. A single
lightning rod, for example, does not necessarily do the job for a single structure,
even where the former is located in the best spot and properly grounded. There
are too many factors for an inexperienced or untrained amateur to take into
account. Structures adjacent to the one to be protected must also be evaluated.
For example, an unprotected tree next to a house that has a system may be a
weak spot. Later changes in the structure must also be taken into account. Periodic
inspections should be made to check on the condition of the system. Clearly
a professional hand is needed here.
For the TV service dealer, an exceptional opportunity is open in this field.
One insurance company estimates that three quarters of the nation's rural property
needs such services. Add to this the rapid rise in private suburban dwellings.
Systems manufacturers, simply unable to exploit the potential through existing
facilities, are looking for new dealers. At least one such firm, the Independent
Protection Company of Goshen, Indiana, has been alert enough to see the manner
in which this type of work complements that of the TV service dealer. Robert
Cripe, IPC vice-president, points out that equipment used is very much the same
as that required in antenna work. His firm welcomes TV service dealers, whom
it will train and assist. With TV service work slowing down in the summer months,
when interest in lightning protection is high, there is a built-in balancing
factor. In addition, the sale of an antenna is an open door to suggesting lightning
protection, or vice versa.
For anyone who lives where lightning. may strike, the ounce of prevention
Posted June 29, 2018