The age old advice when a storms is approaching has always been that you should power down your computer and unplug it in order to protect it from a lightening strike. What truth is there in this advice, and how best could you protect your valuable equipment from lightening storm damage?
Computers are electrically sensitive devices, and they can be damaged by getting either too much, or too little power. Too much can be sent to them by power surges caused within your home’s power circuit, or by storms that are a distance away. It can damage internal components, or simply blow fuses. However it is possible to protect your computer from these low level surges simply by buying and using surge protection strips all of the time.
Brown outs can occur in relation to a storm, often caused by a local substation being hit by lightening and suffering a failure, but they can also occur in the summer time when the grid is overloaded by users of air conditioning. Power cuts because of storms can cause similar effects to the computer, suddenly cutting off power and not allowing the machine to safely shut down.
When this happens data can be lost, with work in progress being the most likely to suffer. However longer term damage can be caused to the hard drive, and the operating system itself can become corrupted.
Protection from brown outs is unfortunately more expensive, but can be purchased for homes and businesses whose computer usage is essential enough. In this case the protection comes in the form of a power supply that turns out and provides power to your computer from a battery supply. The battery may not run it for long-it may last just a few minutes but may last longer depending on how much you invest in it. Either way it will be enough time for you to completely and safely power down your computer until such a time as the brown out is over.
When lightening strikes close enough to your home that it knocks out the power to your house then it is likely to result in such a powerful surge of electricity through the circuits that nothing will protect your equipment. These high surges can cause massive heat build up, resulting in melted components inside of your computer or other equipment. Your surge protector will be fried in the process too and the surge will be too powerful and too fast for it to protect your computer.
The damage done can be catastrophic. It may burn out your entire computer, router, modem, and any other equipment that is plugged into the mains. The risks of damage caused by lightening storms and other conditions are very real, and though in some cases they may be easy to repair, in others the costs of repair would be huge. In fact some equipment may not be repairable at all.
For this reason the advice remains the same. Never use your computer during a lightening storm, and unplug it, along with any other sensitive electrical equipment as soon as it becomes apparent that a storm is on it’s way. It is the only sure fire way to protect your expensive equipment from possibly catastrophic damage.