Lightning Surge Protection Devices

Lightning Protection Blog

Week 82 | April 17, 2014

Sometimes we hear statements made in the lightning protection business that just don’t make any sense. People equate lightning with a natural disaster and/or “act of God”, therefore we frequently hear that is why they don’t think to protect against it? I guess the thinking behind this is since you can’t control nature, why bother protecting against it. However, just like building codes and other safety precautions taken into account, lightning protection must be thought of in the same vein. There are many of nature’s gifts that we have studied, harnessed and/or used in order to better our environment. A good example of these are sunlight with the advent of solar power; nuclear energy, hydropower and wind to name a few. Years ago, it never occurred to us that we could control or manipulate these things.

Electricity (lightning’s cousin), where did this come from? If not for manipulating a current and directing it, we would not have it. Columbus thought the world was round while others thought it flat. Without manipulating nature for better or worse there are many things we would not have today or could not have accomplished unless we had pushed the envelope. Why not lightning? If we can collect electricity and control it, why can we not prevent a strike from happening within an area we do not want it to hit. It is mindboggling to me, that people don’t consider the opposite sides of the argument. Stands to reason if you can do one, you can do the other. This week’s guest blogger addresses this issue.

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Yours Truly,
The LightningDiva@Large

Preventing Lightning

By Luke Pettross, Solutions Specialist at Lightning Eliminators

“We prevent lightning.” This slogan turns heads and often evokes a response. Indeed, such a reaction should not be surprising. Since lightning is often considered an “act of God.” How can you prevent an “act of God”?

This is the sort of thinking that leads people to say “you can’t prevent lightning”. Well, in a very important sense they are correct. Let’s review the events that lead up to a lightning strike. Everything begins in the cloud where there is a torrent of particles circulating around and colliding at high velocities. These collisions cause electrons to be removed from some of the atoms and given to others. This process is actually very similar to how you can build up a static charge by walking across the carpet in your socks.

In the cloud, the negative charge tends to accumulate at the bottom of the cloud while the positive charge gathers at the top. When we talk about cloud to ground strikes, it is the negative charge at the bottom of the cloud that is the most important. That is because the negative charge induces a positive charge on the earth. These positive and negative charges are then attracted together but are held apart by the insulating properties of the air between them. During a thunderstorm, the charges continue to grow until they become so large that the air can no longer hold them back. This is the situation which results in the initiation of a lightning leader.

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Lightning formed, Lightning strike, lightning prevention, Lightning Protection
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With that in mind, you can’t prevent lightning altogether without somehow neutralizing the charge in the cloud. Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin understood this long ago and that was what he originally intended for the lightning rod to do back in 1749. Of course, you cannot discharge a cloud in this way because, as we now know, the charged air particles (ions) do not move quickly enough. This is just one example of an invention which works differently than originally intended. Actually, inventions which work right from the beginning and in the way they are intended to may be the exception rather than the rule. While I personally tend to think of myself as more idealistic or theoretically oriented, I must admit that the experimentalists have a great argument here.

So neither lightning rods nor the Dissipation Array System (DAS) prevents lightning from striking altogether. How can we then say that “we prevent lightning”? Isn’t that dishonest? Well, perhaps it is sensational but I do not think it is dishonest. Consider the way in which lightning rods operate: They attract lightning by generating an upward lightning “streamer” which is intended to collect the downward lightning leader. By contrast, the Dissipation Array System prevents streamer formation on the protected structure and thereby prevents lightning from being able to collect to that structure. So in a very real sense we DO prevent lightning, just not in the way people often think.

Additional reading:

April Showers Bring LIGHTNING: Protect, Inspect and Maintain!

Collection vs. Prevention

If you have any questions or wish to engage with Luke about this blog please email him at LukeP@lecglobal.com

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As always if you have any questions or need additional information please feel free to contact me at LightningDiva@lecglobal.com

Be careful out there! Visit www.lightningprotection.com for all your lightning protection needs. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for more information and updates as well as some great photos.

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