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Last post Author Topic: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)  (Read 19351 times)

nudone

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a few nights back a lightning strike hit a tree about 50 metres away from my house. it was a rather surreal event, which reminded me of the death-rays in Spielberg's War of the Worlds; their was a strange humming sound then a brilliant white light and then a sound that made me think the house had been hit by a bomb (all that was obviously the tree being hit and its branches exploding off).

as i'm in England, thunder storms tend to be rather unineventful and i just leave all electrics plugged in and powered on. which is exactly what i did this time, except the computer was powered off - i thought this would be sufficient. my error.

the lightning strike has killed my computer and several of the neighbours computers. our broadband is dead, though the phone line works fine. the neighbour living next to the tree has been without power after their entire electrics were damaged, a few plug sockets charred and melted.

Now, the point of this little story is that i'm wondering how can i prevent this rare event happening again; i don't like the idea of having to buy a new motherboard/cpu/etc each time there's a bad thunder storm. you may say, just unplug the computer from the mains power supply, which is true; the problem is that i may not be there to unplug the machine if i've left it running and an unexpected storm arrives.

as it goes, i think it was a freak storm, but i'm not going to take the view that lightning never strikes twice. the weather patterns around the world appear to be changing so i'm sure there will be more "freak" storms over my house in the next few years.

okay, enough waffling. the question is, would anything have prevented the damage whilst keeping the computer powered on?

would an "uninterruptible power supply" have saved the computer? that's about the only thing i can think of trying. i obviously don't want to buy one if they aren't going to prevent the same thing happening again.

thankfully, none of my data was harmed. but i shall be building the new computer with several redundancy and backup layers built in as the lightning strike has made me realise just how catastrophic the data loss could have been.

(i'd been toying with the idea of upgrading the pc for a while so nature simply stopped me from procrastinating further: new machine will be: i7, 12 gig ram, solid state main drive, etc. Which, i hope, will be a noticeable improvement on the athlon 4800, 4 gig ram, raid 0.)
« Last Edit: June 30, 2011, 04:13:27 AM by nudone »

Carol Haynes

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #1 on: June 30, 2011, 04:17:53 AM »
In theory a good quality UPS should prevent this - but how long is a piece of string ?

Presumably if the strike is sufficiently sever to melt power sockets it is likely to destroy a UPS too - whether there will be sufficient protection to stop it zapping the computer too is a case of 'suck it and see'.

If you have household insurance it looks like a good time to fill out a form!

mouser

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #2 on: June 30, 2011, 04:20:41 AM »
wow.. that is scary.  what a relief you didn't lose any major data.

i look forward to hearing whether a UPS would actually protect you against such a thing.

it may be that the only real cure is to unplug your pc from the outlet in a heavy storm.. though i've never done that myself.

eleman

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #3 on: June 30, 2011, 04:28:53 AM »
i look forward to hearing whether a UPS would actually protect you against such a thing.

An online UPS would save you (though probably die valiantly in the effort), while with line interactive (cheaper) ones your guess is as good as mine.

mouser

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #4 on: June 30, 2011, 04:36:12 AM »
eleman, how do we tell if we have an online UPS or not?

eleman

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #5 on: June 30, 2011, 04:43:00 AM »
eleman, how do we tell if we have an online UPS or not?

It should write on the box. Here is the site I buy my hardware from:
http://is.gd/g0oG0Q
The page is in Turkish but you can see that they state whether an UPS is line interactive or online, right next to the VA rating. So I guess it is a pretty significant specification.

cmpm

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #6 on: June 30, 2011, 05:18:59 AM »
A few things that may help, or not.
For a few this has helped, from what I've heard.

Setup your computer room away from the main power supply to your house, if possible.
If you only have one room for your computers, shut off the breaker when a storm is coming,
a bit of an annoyance but could work, or not depending on the power surge strength.
Unplug everything, should work, more annoying solution unless you have a few plugs only.


justice

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #7 on: June 30, 2011, 05:22:11 AM »
Out of the box thinking (and a bit silly), but if you have a laptop then when it's not charging you'd be safe :) Might be cheaper and more used than a UPS.

mouser

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #8 on: June 30, 2011, 05:34:17 AM »
yeah i didnt think of it but a laptop is a real win if you live someplace with frequent storms.

nudone

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #9 on: June 30, 2011, 05:50:51 AM »
interesting. thanks, eleman, i shall look into an online UPS. as i mentioned, this needs to be a "set it and forget it" solution.

british weather tends to be capricious at best. today's weather may report "sunny with a hint of showers" only to find that at 4pm we have a torrential downpour - which could quite easily become a thunder storm.

because of the earlier "reliable" weather report i may have decided to go out and leave the computer running, i may be away for only 30 minutes but it's still time enough for an accident to occur - so i really need something like the UPS.

(a few years ago i had a computer drown under the amount of rainfall that came in through a slightly open window - the blocked drain pipe above the window didn't help . normal rainfall would have been fine, but this was like a waterfall forcing its way in through the half inch gap the window was ajar. i was out when that happened too.)

nudone

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #10 on: June 30, 2011, 06:05:02 AM »
i'm having a rethink about all this.

nothing is going to provide a guaranteed solution, well, nothing except for unplugging the machine. plus, maybe next time it won't be a lightning strike, maybe it will be a house fire or a gas explosion or a plane crashing into the roof.

so, as the data is really the only crucial thing about the whole computer, i think a remote backup solution is the answer. that is the only sure way to have piece-of-mind. my problem then becomes that my broadband is so slow (1 meg) it's not convenient to use online storage except for a few small files.

weekly (or daily) backups to external drives that are stored off-site is the way to go.

i suppose a good UPS won't do any harm though. it could save time, stress and money at the very least.


40hz

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2011, 06:05:40 AM »
The best way to do it is with a two pronged shield.

The first line of defense is to protect your house power lines at the utility service entrance point. That provides "whole house" protection. But it can be a little costly since it needs an electrician or your utility company to install it. Prices range from about $200-$1000 USD depending on ratings and how fancy you want to get with status displays and blinkin' lights.

Quote
Residential Surge Suppressors are the first line of defense against damaging electrical surges and spikes that originate outside your home. They are installed by an electrician at your circuit breaker panel and safely reduce the severity of power transients caused by utility accidents, power outages and lightning.

Your second line of defense is a good quality UPS (best solution) or plug-in surge suppressor attached to sensitive equipment.

It's important to plug everything that is a part of your system into (at least) a surge suppressor. If you don't, a surge entering an attached but unprotected component (ex: monitor, cabled-in printer, phone line, etc.) can still damage your computer since there's a circuit path.

So a whole-house residential surge suppressor + local device protection is the way to go if you're that worried.

Carol's suggestion you look into if you're covered under you homeowner's/renter's insurance policy is a good one. Lightning damage is rare enough that filing a reasonable property damage claim seldom affects your rate going forward. Some insurance companies will also partially underwrite your getting a residential suppressor installed if you're in an area that experiences a lot of lightning damage. Worth asking about since they seldom volunteer that sort of information.

------------------------

Note: I've been told by an electrician that daisy-chaining two surge suppressors together boosts the level of protection to anything plugged into the downstream strip. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it does seem to make sense since any residual surge that made it through the first suppressor would likely be stopped by the second.


eleman, how do we tell if we have an online UPS or not?

(Old IT joke: if it cost less than a grand - or you can pick it up by yourself - it isn't an online UPS - no matter what the brochure calls it.)

There's no way you can tell just by looking at it - although size and price is a good clue. The manufacturer's site however, should have that information available. "Online" is also sometimes called "zero switchover" or "continuous" in the product literature.

Basically in an online system ALL power at the device plug is coming through the battery circuit in the UPS. In cheaper UPS systems AC power goes though a suppressor circuit (just like a power strip) but switches over to battery in the event of a surge or power loss. That switchover takes a minute but definite amount of time. If the surge is large enough that it too rapidly blows through the suppressor circuit, the UPS may not have enough time to switch to the battery circuit before it - and whatever is attached to it - gets roasted.

It's pretty rare having that happen. But it does, so that's why there are "online" or "continuous" UPSs.

Good article here if you're interested in a more in-depth description of how they work. The article is a little old. But it's still accurate since UPS systems work the same now as they did back then.

« Last Edit: June 30, 2011, 06:19:55 AM by 40hz »

nudone

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #12 on: June 30, 2011, 06:14:03 AM »
thanks 40hz. that's great information - but pretty much makes me conclude that data is god and the machine can simply be sacrificed. it'll be cheaper for me to replace the computer parts than have a proper electrical system installed.

and, as we all know, our data is irreplaceable so it simply must be backed up somewhere safe - but done conveniently enough not to make it a "chore".


Renegade

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #13 on: June 30, 2011, 06:31:34 AM »
Last November I bought a surge protector power bar that has a $75,000 guarantee. It might not actually protect things, but if anything does go wrong, it's going to cover a lot of damage. It was quite expensive though. I think it was $80 or $90... I forget.

Still, it's not $1,000, but it is an option... Doesn't address data though... but if you backup often, that's pretty much covered, though you're still stuck with down time.
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eleman

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #14 on: June 30, 2011, 06:36:19 AM »
Here is an interesting piece on surge protectors and connected equipment warranties. Worth to read.

Carol Haynes

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #15 on: June 30, 2011, 07:33:27 AM »
Pretty much what I had heard about Belkin warranties - not worth the paper they are written on.

cyberdiva

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #16 on: June 30, 2011, 08:14:43 AM »
Last November I bought a surge protector power bar that has a $75,000 guarantee. It might not actually protect things, but if anything does go wrong, it's going to cover a lot of damage. It was quite expensive though. I think it was $80 or $90... I forget.
A couple of years ago, I bought something that sounds quite similar to Renegade's surge protector.  Mine is an APC Back-UPS ES550 battery backup/surge protector that claims to provide up to 48 minutes of battery backup for home computers in case of power failure.  Like his, it offers (or claims to offer) a $75,000 guarantee that includes damage due to lightning.  I have fortunately never had to test its ability to survive the kind of close lightning strike that nudone experienced, but it has saved me a number of times when there have been momentary or extended power outages.  When the power suddenly goes out, my computer continues (powered by the APC's battery) as if nothing has happened, giving me the opportunity to turn it off normally if I wish.

Even so, if there's a bad thunderstorm, I tend to turn off the computer and pull out the plug connecting the APC to the electricity.  I do this as well if I'm about to go out for a while and there's a prediction of thunderstorms.   Nudone's unfortunate experience makes me feel better about being a worrywart. 

Stephen66515

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #17 on: June 30, 2011, 09:44:48 AM »
There are some Surge Protection extention cables you can buy from PC World and Argos that come with a massive insurance policy to say if they fail (even for direct lightning strikes) theyw ill cover the cost of ANY damage to ANYTHING plugged into that device at the time of surge.  They dont cost all that much, especially when in the UK we seem to be going from mega sunny to crazy ass storm in the matter of minutes (seems to be happening quite a lot these days).

We have _never_ had ground strikes anywhere close to us over the past decade, and I can count around 5 that have hit within a ~30 Mile Radius within the last 12 months.

Im not sure how far north/south you are from us nudone but from what I can gather, the Lake District and soem places down near Devon and Cornwall are the worst affected at the moment.  I'm in East Lancashire (Blackburn).

Quote
Even so, if there's a bad thunderstorm, I tend to turn off the computer and pull out the plug connecting the APC to the electricity.  I do this as well if I'm about to go out for a while and there's a prediction of thunderstorms.   Nudone's unfortunate experience makes me feel better about being a worrywart.

Theres the problem...Here in the UK, we don't have any real knowledge when a storm is going to manifest, purely because they hit without any warning at all.

The last storm we had here was a week or so ago, and all the weather report told us was "Slightly Overcast with light chance of precipitation" (What we got was "Black Skies with rain that hurts when it hits you"

westom

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #18 on: June 30, 2011, 10:56:01 AM »
it'll be cheaper for me to replace the computer parts than have a proper electrical system installed.
  You are not just protecting a computer.  That surge simply selected a best path to earth.  Today a computer.  Next time, the furnace or dishwasher.

  All appliances have superior protection.  Protectors adjacent to appliances may compromise that protection.  Most (ie UPS) do not even claim to provide protection.  View its spec numbers.  Where does it list protection from each type of surge?  It doesn't.  Protection exists in hearsay.  See its hundreds of joules?  Destructive surges are hundreds of thousands of joules.  But near zero joules means it can claim 100% protection in advertising and myths.

  Protectors are effective only when that energy is not inside.  Therefore many install  ‘secondary’ protection.  Hundreds of thousands of joules are absorbed harmlessly outside by earthing only one ‘whole house’ protector.

  Your 'primary' protection is installed by the utility often at each transformer.  In every case, a protection layer is only defined by one always required item – earth ground.  No earth ground means a protector is not effective.

  Some numbers.  Surges that can overwhelm superior protection inside appliances occur maybe once every seven years.  UK typically suffers less often.

  That once every X years is the reason for surge protection.  And not just from lightning.  Also from other just as destructive anomalies.  So that destructive energy is not inside hunting for earth destructively via appliances.

   Many will spend the 1 quid per protected appliance for a superior solution.  How often do you need it?  What is a ten or twenty year history in your neighborhood?  Was it one event every twenty years.  Or does your part of town suffer more often?  A typical number throughout the world is maybe once every seven years.  Therefore many earth one ‘whole house’ protector.  UPS specs really do not claim effective protection.


cranioscopical

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #19 on: June 30, 2011, 11:12:51 AM »

okay, enough waffling. the question is, would anything have prevented the damage whilst keeping the computer powered on?


Bad luck with the strike, you have my sympathies! When we were last in the U.K. my Canadian wife was astonished to find summertime sunshine and clear skies morph into a full-blown run-for-cover-storm and back again within about 30 minutes.

Personally, I find that the very best protection is a redundant, up-to-date machine.  When one of mine goes down (as one just did) I simply move to another room, fire up a different machine and, if needed, refresh the data from an external drive. As long as I keep the software on all machines more or less in sync, and I'm scrupulous about backups and rotating the backup drives, I can go from calamity to recovery in as long as it takes me to move to another chair. Cost might be an issue… depends on whether income potential is tied to what's on any given machine. If income is at stake a couple of grand for a spare machine suddenly looks like peanuts. I'm on a dreadfully slow connection here and the cloud's not a viable option even if I want it (which I don't).

Carol Haynes

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #20 on: June 30, 2011, 11:59:04 AM »
When we were last in the U.K. my Canadian wife was astonished to find summertime sunshine and clear skies morph into a full-blown run-for-cover-storm and back again within about 30 minutes.

You should try Scotland - I remember one May holiday a few years back were I was suffering from dehydration from heat exhaustion, had the campsite demolished by storm force wind and rain and woke up to snow - all in under 24 hours!

nudone

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #21 on: June 30, 2011, 12:04:45 PM »
Yes, that's what I'll do, good idea: from the ashes of the old machine, I'll rebuild it into something perfectly decent as a standby machine. Because of the way I've ordered the new pc I'll have a case a psu spare to start with if nothing else.

My income does now depend on the data on my machine so that really has to be my priority in protecting. Combined with the downtime a dead machine causes, a backup pc makes a very great deal of sense.

cranioscopical

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #22 on: June 30, 2011, 02:27:59 PM »

You should try Scotland - I remember one May holiday a few years back were I was suffering from dehydration from heat exhaustion, had the campsite demolished by storm force wind and rain and woke up to snow - all in under 24 hours!

Scotland!

So, it's true… there is some corner of a sporran field    that is for ever England.

cranioscopical

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #23 on: June 30, 2011, 02:32:02 PM »
My income does now depend on the data on my machine so that really has to be my priority in protecting. Combined with the downtime a dead machine causes, a backup pc makes a very great deal of sense.

It's the down time that can do you in if you work to tight deadlines.
A fall-back machine makes even more sense if you have some of its parts already at your disposal.

These disasters are a painful way to learn but their lessons are seldom forgotten. Cold comfort, I know.

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Re: nearby lightning skrike kills neighbours computers (and mine)
« Reply #24 on: June 30, 2011, 04:53:16 PM »
My suggestion is to not use any of the old equipment. Although the parts may look good, that does not mean that they are. I got some parts from a friend where lightning struck the telephone line transformer (about 100 meters from his house). After I tried two of those parts suddenly my mainboard developed a problem and died.

Take your loss regarding the hardware. As the saying goes: God works in mysterious ways...well, he had a good teacher called: lightning!

Further precaution: only if you are a bandmember of Metallica, you can ride it.