Lightning: Rod installation and safety with Hamilton Lightning Rods

Working In the Weather
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HOUSTON (CW39) – This week’s working in the weather segment highlights the importance of installing lightning rods in your home. I spent a day with Marty Hamilton, a lightning rod installer in the Houston area for a closer look at the science behind the rod.

I used to wonder how lightning worked…then it struck me

We are getting closer to that time of year where thunderstorm occurrence begins to ramp up. In SE Texas we see a noticeable increase in lightning strikes from March to April. Our lightning strikes peak in the month of July. As for time of day, most occur between the hours of 2PM and 4PM.

Coincidence? Nope.

This is the time of day that the atmosphere is highly unstable during the late Spring and Summer months. Stability is determined by comparing the temperature of a rising or sinking air parcel to the air temperature of the environment surrounding it. 

Think about how hot the air is right above the surface of hot pavement in the summer-time. Now, compare that to the air just 6 feet up, to around your face. Feels much different right? 

This dramatic change in temperature is essentially the basis of most ‘ ‘pop-up’ thunderstorms that we see in our hottest time of the year, and where there are thunderstorms… there is LIGHTNING! 

Caution the information you are about to receive is quite…shocking. 

You see lightning BEFORE you hear thunder. The speed of light is faster than the speed of sound. 

There is a higher chance of being struck by lightning than to be killed in a shark attack.

The temperature of lightning is 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun.

When lightning strikes the sand, or even soil, it creates fulgurite. Grains of sediment fuse together to form a glass like tube. 

On earth there are about 44 lightning strikes every SECOND. 

Lightning deaths across the U.S. 2020

Believe it or Watt…

France, during the 1700s, had a traditional practice of ringing bells during thunderstorms. They believed the sound would disperse the thunder. Over a hundred bell ringers were electrocuted, killed due to climbing towers and ringing wet ropes. The Parliament of Paris would soon forbid the practice. 

Q&A with Marty Hamilton: 

People have this misconception that lightning rods prevent lightning strikes. Why is that not true? If these don’t actually prevent lightning strikes from happening, what do they do?  

Marty: In the event that lightning does hit, it won’t prevent it, it is not going to necessarily attract it or detract it for say. If it does happen to hit it is going to immediately give the current a path. It will follow the path of least resistance. It will prevent it from going into the home, and take it into the ground.  

Can you point out some things on the lightning rod that we should take note of? 

Marty: It is going to basically hit this rod, and the cable is going to take that and send it to multiple grounding rods/ earthing rods that are set up around the home. They are no further than 20 feet apart on a running ridge. Any vulnerable high pipes, chimneys, peaks, will all have these. If the lightning hits, that is where it is going to go.  

In regards to the copper wiring. What exactly is happening as this travels down the house?  

Marty: Basically, within nanoseconds, if the home gets hit by lightning, you won’t even know it! It takes that charge, and… well you can’t see it because it is all below ground, but there is a 10-foot grounding rod down there that will automatically discharge it into the ground.  

So, it is just dispersing that energy in a safe way… and that safe place is under us?  

Marty: Yes! WAY down under us.  

There’s this myth, you are going to be my myth buster for the day, that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. Why don’t you tell the folks at home why you know that not to be true.  

Marty: We actually had several customers, one not far from us here in Sugarland that actually got hit 5 TIMES! His builder said, “You need to invest in lightning rods!” 

What are those “pointy things” I see sticking up on the roof?  

Marty: That is actually the lightning rods! They are technically working right now. You can’t see it, but if we had any lightning in the immediate future, one of those would take the charge and bring it down. There is a cable coming down from the chimney going straight into the ground.  

If people don’t have this protective system set up in their home, what are some dangers that they have to look out for? I know I’ve heard that you shouldn’t pick up a corded phone because electrical current can travel through it. What else do we need to be aware of during a lightning storm in our own home? 

Marty: You can even be harmed in the shower, or doing the dishes. Water is a good conductor of electricity. Currents can even flow through plastic pipes. 

After major weather events such as hurricanes, flooding, and severe thunderstorms… homes can and do suffer damage. Do you ever have damage done to the lightning rod itself, making them ineffective to the point that they need to be repaired?  

Marty: A hurricane possibly, if it physically ripped the roof off, but these things are pretty heavy-duty equipment. This is solid copper. I have never seen hail damage our system to where it is not going to function.  

Your job involves weather safety, but you honestly need nice weather to do your job! 

Marty: Yes, we don’t want to be up there holding rods! 

Holding lightning rods on a roof during a lightning storm. You’d be a human target! 

Marty: We get the guys off the roof immediately if we have lightning, and I’m terrified of it! 

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