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 ~ National Lightning Safety Institute ~

Section 5.1.7

21st Century Lightning Safety For Environments Containing Sensitive Electronics, Explosives, and Volatile Substances*

By Richard Kithil, President & CEO, NLSI

1. Abstract

In the USA civilian sector, lightning causes losses of $4-$5 billion per year (NLSI, 1999). In the government sector, the military (DDESB - Department of Defense Explosive Safety Board) has reported 88 identifiable lightning induced munitions explosions with costs and deaths not calculated. DDESB was formed as a result of the July 1926 Picatinny Arsenal incident, which killed 14 people and cost $70 million. The US Department of Energy (DOE) has reported 346 known lightning events to its facilities during the 1990-2000 period. Recent Russian lightning incidents to arsenals include one in June 1998 near Losiniy (Yekaterinburg) and one in June 2001 near Nerchinsk (Siberia). In Beira Mozambique (October 2002), lightning exploded a military ammunition storage depot with considerable loss of lives and collateral damage. The most recent lightning-caused munitions explosion (Feb 13, 2005) was Hezbollah's Lebanese two-story ammunition storage complex near Majadel, set off by an induced short circuit. With such examples, it is difficult to support a position that catastrophic lightning incidents are rare. How to mitigate the lightning hazard at sensitive facilities? This paper suggests adoption of a homologous lightning safety planning process which can be applied to most contemporary environments.

2. Lightning Behavior and Characteristics

2.1. Physics of Lightning

Lightning's characteristics include current levels approaching 400 kA, with the 50% average being about 25kA, temperatures to 15,000 C, and voltages in the hundreds of millions. There are some ten cloud-to-cloud lightnings for each cloud-to-ground lightning flash. Globally, some 2000 on-going thunderstorms generate about 50-100 lightning strikes to earth per second. Lightning is the agency which maintains the earth's electrical balance. The phenomenology of lightning flashes to earth, as presently understood, follows an approximate behavior: the downward Leader (gas plasma channel) from a thundercloud pulses toward earth. Ground-based air terminators, such as fences, trees, blades of grass, corners of buildings, people, lightning rods, and power poles, emit varying degrees of induced electric activity. They may respond at breakdown voltage by forming upward Streamers. In this intensified local field some Leader(s) likely will connect with some Streamer(s). Then, the "switch" is closed and the current flows. Lightning flashes to ground are the result. A series of return strokes follow.

2.2 Lightning Effects

Thermal stress of materials around the attachment point is determined by: a) heat conduction from arc root; b) heat radiation from arc channel; and c) Joule heating. The radial acoustic shock wave can cause mechanical damage. Magnetic pressures — up to 6000 atmospheres for a 200 kA flash — are proportional to the square of the current and inversely proportional to the square of the diameter of struck objects. Voltage sparking is a result of dielectric breakdown. Thermal sparking is caused is caused when melted materials are thrown out from hot spots. Exploding high current arcs, due to the rapid heating of air in enclosed spaces, have been observed to fracture massive objects (e.g., concrete and rocks). Voltage transfers from an intended lightning conductor into electrical circuits can occur due to capacitive coupling, inductive coupling, and/or resistance (i.e., insulation breakdown) coupling. Transfer impedance, due to loss of skin effect attenuation or shielding, can radiate interference and noise into power and signal lines. Transfer inductance (mutual coupling) can induce voltages into a loop which can cause current flows in other coupled circuits.

2.3 Behavior of Lightning

Absolute protection from lightning may exist in a thick-walled and fully enclosed Faraday Cage; however, this is impractical in most cases. Lightning ¡§prevention¡¨ exists only as a vendor-inspired marketing tool. Important new information about lightning may affect sensitive facilities. First, the average distance between successive cloud-to-ground flashes is greater than previously thought. The old recommended safe distance from the previous flash was 1-3 miles. New information suggests that a safe distance should be 6-8 miles (Lopez & Holle, National Severe Storm Center, 1998). Second, some 40% of cloud-to-ground lightnings are forked, with two or more attachment points to the earth. This means there is more lightning to earth than previously measured (Krider, Intl. Conf. Atmospheric Electricity, 1998). Third, radial horizontal arcing in excess of 20 m from the base of the lightning flash extends the hazardous environment (Sandia Labs, 1997). Lightning is a capricious, random, stochastic, and unpredictable event. At the macro level, much about lightning is understood. At the micro level, much has yet to be learned.

When lightning strikes an asset, facility, or structure (AFS) return-stroke current will divide up among all parallel conductive paths between attachment point and earth. Division of current will be inversely proportional to the AFS path impedance, Z (Z = R + XL, resistance plus inductive reactance). The resistance term will be low, assuming effectively bonded metallic conductors. The inductance, and related inductive reactance, presented to the total return stroke current will be determined by the combination of all the individual inductive paths in parallel. Essentially lightning is a current source. A given stroke will contain a given amount of charge (coulombs = amp/seconds) that must be neutralized during the discharge process. If the return stroke current is 50kA, that is the magnitude of the current that will flow, whether it flows through one ohm or 1,000 ohms. Therefore, achieving the lowest possible impedance serves to minimize the transient voltage developed across the AFS path through which the current is flowing [e(t) = I (t)R + L di/dt)].

3. Lightning Protection Designs

Mitigation of lightning consequences can be achieved by the use of a detailed systems approach, described below in general terms.

3.1 Air Terminals

Since Franklin's day lightning rods have been installed upon ordinary structures as sacrificial attachment points, intending to conduct direct flashes to earth. This integral air terminal design does not provide protection for electronics, explosives, or people inside modern structures. Inductive and capacitive coupling (transfer impedance) from lightning-energized conductors can result in significant voltages and currents on interior power, signal, and other conductors. Overhead shield wires and mast systems located above or next to the structure are suggested alternatives in many circumstances. These are termed indirect air terminal designs. Such methods presume to collect lightning above or away from the sensitive structure, thus avoiding or reducing flashover attachment of unwanted currents and voltages to the facility and equipments. These designs have been in use by the electric power industry for over 100 years. Investigation into applicability of dielectric shielding may provide additional protection where upward leader suppression may influence breakdown voltages (Sandia Laboratories, 1997). Faraday-like interior shielding, either via rebar or inner-wall screening, is under investigation for critical applications (US Army Tacom-Ardec).

Unconventional air terminal designs that claim the elimination or redirecting of lightning (DAS/CTS - charge dissipaters) or lightning preferential capture (early streamer emitters - ESE) deserve a very skeptical reception. Their uselessness has been well-described in publications such as: NASA/Navy Tall Tower Study; 1975, R.H. Golde "Lightning" 1977; FAA Airport Study 1989; T. Horvath "Computation of Lightning Protection" 1991; D. MacKerras et al, IEE Proc-Sci Meas. Technol, V. 144, No. 1 1997; National Lightning Safety Institute "Royal Thai Air Force Study" 1997; A. Mousa, IEEE Trans. Power Delivery, V. 13, No. 4 1998; International Conference on Lightning Protection - Technical Committee personal correspondence 2000; Uman & Rakov "Critical Review of Nonconventional Approaches to Lightning Protection", AMS Dec. 2002; etc. Merits of radioactive air terminals have been investigated and dismissed by reputable scientists (R.H. Golde op cit and C.B. Moore personal correspondence, 2000).

3.2 Downconductors

Downconductor pathways should be installed outside of the structure. Rigid strap is preferred to flexible cable due to inductance advantages. Conductors should not be painted, since this will increase impedance. Gradual bends always should be employed to avoid flashover problems. Building structural steel also may be used in place of downconductors, where practical, as a beneficial subsystem emulating the Faraday Cage concept.

3.3 Bonding

Bonding assures that unrelated conductive objects are at the same electrical potential. Without proper bonding, lightning protection systems will not work. All metallic conductors entering structures (e.g., AC power lines, gas and water pipes, data and signal lines, HVAC ducting, conduits and piping, railroad tracks, overhead bridge cranes, roll up doors, personnel metal door frames, and hand railings) should be electrically referenced to the same ground potential. Connector bonding should be exothermal and not mechanical wherever possible, especially in below-grade locations. Mechanical bonds are subject to corrosion and physical damage. HVAC vents that penetrate one structure from another should not be ignored, as they may become troublesome electrical pathways. Frequent inspection and resistance measuring (maximum 10 million ohms) of connectors to assure continuity is recommended.

3.4 Grounding

The grounding system must address low earth impedance as well as low resistance. A spectral study of lightning's typical impulse reveals both a high and a low frequency content. The grounding system appears to the lightning impulse as a transmission line where wave propagation theory applies. A considerable part of lightning's current responds horizontally when striking the ground: it is estimated that less than 15% of it penetrates the earth. As a result, low resistance values (25 ohms per NEC) are less important that volumetric efficiencies.

Equipotential grounding is achieved when all equipments within the structure(s) are referenced to a master bus bar, which in turn is bonded to the external grounding system. Earth loops and consequential differential rise times must be avoided. The grounding system should be designed to reduce AC impedance and DC resistance. The use of buried linear or radial techniques can lower impedance as they allow lightning energy to diverge as each buried conductor shares voltage gradients. Ground rings connected around structures are useful. Proper use of concrete footing and foundations (Ufer grounds) increases volume. Where high resistance soils or poor moisture content or absence of salts or freezing temperatures are present, treatment of soils with carbon, Coke Breeze, concrete, natural salts or other low resistance additives may be useful. These should be deployed on a case-by-case basis where lowering grounding impedances are difficult an/or expensive by traditional means.

3.5 Corrosion

Corrosion and cathodic reactance issues should be considered during the site analysis phase. Where incompatible materials are joined, suitable bi-metallic connectors should be adopted. Joining of aluminum down conductors together with copper ground wires is a typical situation promising future troubles.

3.6 Transients and Surges

Electronic and electrical protection approaches are well-described in IEEE1100. Ordinary fuses and circuit breakers are not capable of dealing with lightning-induced transients. Surge protection devices (SPD aka transient limiters) may shunt current, block energy from traveling down the wire, filter certain frequencies, clamp voltage levels, or perform a combination of these tasks. Voltage clamping devices capable of handling extremely high amperages of the surge, as well as reducing the extremely fast rising edge (dv/dt and di/dt) of the transient are recommended.

Protecting the AC power main panel, all relevant secondary distribution panels, and all valuable plug-in devices—such as process control instrumentation, computers, printers, fire alarms, data recording and SCADA equipment—are suggested. Protecting incoming and outgoing data and signal lines (e.g., modem, LAN) is essential. All electrical devices that serve the primary asset, such as well heads, remote security alarms, CCTV cameras, and high mast lighting, should be included.

Transient limiters should be installed with short lead lengths to their respective panels. Under fast rise time conditions, cable inductance becomes important and high transient voltages can be developed across long leads. SPDs with replaceable internal modules are suggested.

In all instances the use of high-quality, high-speed, self-diagnosing SPD components is suggested. Transient limiting devices may use spark gap, diverters, metal oxide varistors, gas tube arrestors, silicon avalanche diodes, or other technologies. Hybrid devices, using a combination of these techniques, are preferred. SPDs conforming to the European CE mark are tested to a 10 x 350 us waveform, while those tested to IEEE and UL standards only meet a 8 x 20 us waveform. It is suggested that user SPD requirements and specifications conform to the CE mark, as well as ISO 9000-9001 series quality control standards.

Uninterrupted power supplies (UPSs) provide battery backup in cases of power quality anomalie—brownouts, capacitor bank switching, outages, lightning, etc. UPSs are employed as backup or temporary power supplies. They should not be used in place of dedicated SPD devices. The correct Category A installation configuration is AC wall outlet to SPD to UPS to equipment.

3.7 Detection

Lightning detectors, available at differing costs and technologies, are useful to provide early warning. Their sensors acquire lightning signals such as RF, EF, or light from cloud-to-cloud or cloud-to-ground or atmospheric gradients. Users should beware of over-confidence in detection equipment. It is not perfect and it does not always acquire all lightning all the time. Detectors cannot ¡§predict¡¨ lightning. Detectors cannot help with ¡§Bolt From The Blue¡¨ events. An interesting application is their use to disconnect from AC line power and to engage standby power before the arrival of lightning. A notification system of radios, sirens, loudspeakers, or other communication means should be coupled with the detector. A more detailed treatment of detectors is covered elsewhere on this website.

3.8 Testing and Maintenance

Modern diagnostic testing is available to ¡§verify¡¨ the performance of lightning conducting devices as well as to indicate the general route of lightning through structures. With such techniques, lightning pathways can be inferred reliably. Sensors that register lightning current attachments can be fastened to downconductors. Regular physical inspections and testing should be a part of an established preventive maintenance program. Failure to maintain any lightning protection system may render it ineffective.

4. Personnel Safety Issues

Lightning safety should be practiced by all people during thunderstorms. Measuring lightning's distance is useful. Using the "Flash/Bang" (F/B) technique, for every five seconds — from the time of seeing the lightning flash to hearing the associated thunder — lightning is one mile away. A F/B of 10 = 2 miles; a F/B of 20 = 4 miles, etc. The distance from Strike A to Strike B to Strike C can be as much as 5-8 miles. The National Lightning Safety Institute recommends the 30/30 Rule: suspend activities at a F/B of 30 (6 miles), or when first hearing thunder. Outdoor activities should not be resumed until 30 minutes has expired from the last observed thunder or lightning. This is a conservative approach: perhaps it is not practical in all circumstances.

If one is suddenly exposed to nearby lightning, adopting the so-called Lightning Safety Position (LSP) is suggested. LSP means staying away from other people, removing metal objects, crouching with feet together, head bowed, and placing hands on ears to reduce acoustic shock from nearby thunder. When lightning threatens, standard safety measures should include the following: avoid water and all metal objects; get off the higher elevations including rooftops; avoid solitary trees; and stay off the telephone. A fully enclosed metal vehicle — van, car or truck — is a safe place because of the (partial) Faraday Cage effect. A large permanent building can be considered a safe place. In all situations, people should avoid becoming a part of the electrical circuit. [Benjamin Franklin's advice was to lie in a silk hammock, supported by two wooden posts, located inside a house.]

Every organization should consider adopting and promulgating a lightning safety plan specific to its operations. An all-encompassing general rule should be: ¡§If you can hear it (thunder), clear it (evacuate); if you can see it (lightning), flee it.¡¨

5. Codes and Standards

In the USA there is no single lightning safety code or standard providing comprehensive assistance. US government lightning protection documents should be consulted. The Federal Aviation Administration FAA-STD-019d is valuable. The IEEE 142 and IEEE 1100 are suggested. Other recommended federal codes include military documents MIL HDBK 419A, Army PAM 385-64, NAVSEA OP 5, AFI 32-1065, NASA STD E0012E, MIL STD 188-124B, MIL STD 1542B, MIL STD 5087B, and UFC 3-570-01. The DOE M440.1-1 and the British Code BS 6551 are helpful. The German lightning protection standard for nuclear power plants KTA 2206 places special emphasis on the coupling of overvoltages at instrument and control cables. The European International Electrotechnical Commission IEC 62305 series for lightning protection is the single best reference document for the lightning protection engineer. Adopted by many countries, IEC 62305 (soon to be replaced with the five-part 62305 series) is a science-based document applicable to many design situations. Too often ignored in most codes is the very essential electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) subject, especially important for explosives safety and facilities containing electronics, VSDs, PLCs, and monitoring equipment.

6. Conclusion

Lightning has its own agenda and may cause damage despite application of best efforts. Any comprehensive approach for protection should be site-specific to attain maximum efficiencies. In order to mitigate the hazard, systematic attention to details of grounding, bonding, shielding, air terminals, surge protection devices, detection and notification, personnel education, maintenance, and employment of risk management principles is recommended.

7. References

7.1 International Conference on Lightning Protection (ICLP) Proceedings, Avignon (2004), Cracow (2002), Athens (2000), Birmingham (1998), Florence (1996).

7.2 IEEE STD 142-1991 Grounding of Industrial and Commercial Power Systems.

7.3 IEEE STD 1100-1999 Powering and Grounding Electronic Equipment

7.3 IEEE Transactions on Electromagnetic Compatibility, Nov. 1998

7.4 National Research Council, Transportation Research Board, NCHRP Report 317, June 1989

7.5 International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Standard for Lightning Protection. See:

7.6 Gardner RL, Lightning Electromagnetics, Hemisphere Publishing, NY NY 1991

7.7 EMC for Systems and Installations, T. Williams and K. Armstrong, Newnes, Oxford UK, 2000.

7.8 NATO STANAG 4236, Lightning Environmental Conditions, 1995.



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