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augustlan's avatar

So, how dangerous is it really to be on your computer during a thunderstorm?

Asked by augustlan (46604 points ) April 27th, 2011

We’ve got a huge line of thunderstorms heading our way (the same system that has spawned all of those tornadoes), and I’m just starting to hear massive thunder booms. I’ve got work to do and I need this machine to do it, damn it! Do I really need to sign off? Unplug? What’s the real deal?

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33 Answers

downtide's avatar

If you can be on a laptop on battery power you’d be safe. Mains electricity can take a surge that can burn out components of a PC. (Yes this has happened to me). As long as the PC is switched off it should be fine, I don’t think you would need to unplug it as well.

Don’t forget to turn the router off too.

augustlan's avatar

Well, crap. No laptop here. My real worry though, is electrocution. Or explosion. Or something that can physically hurt me/burn down the house. Is that a reasonable worry, or no?

downtide's avatar

No. You risk ending up without a working computer and I guss there’s a very small risk of fire, but unless your house was directly struck by lightning, nothing worse than that.

ETA: Having an electrical device plugged in/switched on will not make your house more likely to get struck.

lillycoyote's avatar

For you or the computer? It’s never hurt me but a thunderstorm blew out the internal modem on one my computers once. That was a long time ago. Next someone should ask how dangerous is it really to take a shower during a thunderstorm because that I still won’t do. It makes me very nervous.

augustlan's avatar

@lillycoyote Me, too, and I really need one!

I’ve lost electronics in a storm before, and while that would suck, it’s not nearly as big a deal as say, dying. :p

lillycoyote's avatar

@augustlan You’re in WVA right? I forgot. You guys are getting your asses kicked but not as bad as Alabama, that’s something to be grateful for as is merely losing a modem as opposed to dying. :p

downtide's avatar

@lillycoyote I think I would be nervous about taking a shower in a thunderstorm too. From a practical point of view though I don’t think there’s any risk unless the bathtub you’re standing in is made of metal. There has to be a way for the current to get to earth. That wouldn’t be the case in a plastic bath, unless maybe you stepped on the metal ring round the plug.

augustlan's avatar

Yeah, WV. It is now storming something fierce outside. Scary! We’re under a tornado watch until 8AM.

I heard a bunch of people died in tornadoes, and Alabama was devastated. :(

Ah, fuck. My roof just started leaking! Pots and pans on the kitchen floor.

lillycoyote's avatar

@downtide One of my bathtubs is ceramic and one is cast iron. What about cast iron? How conductive is cast iron? I know very little about these things.

augustlan's avatar

My claw foot tub is cast iron (and it’s the only shower/tub in the house). I always thought the lightning could come through the pipes and hit you via the water.

lillycoyote's avatar

@augustlan Then you shouldn’t be worrying. It sounds like you have plenty of things to keep you busy that don’t involve you being on your computer, but do keep us posted. I have a spare sump pump if you need one. Sadly, I don’t have any tornado proofing materials. :-)

lillycoyote's avatar

@augustlan That’s kind of what I’ve alway thought. I get in the tub, turn on the water then turn on the shower and there would be a lightening bolt kind of thing that would come out of the shower head directly onto or into my own personal head. :-)

augustlan's avatar

Exactly!

Sadly, I do have actual work to do, and I do need to be on the computer to do it. Not much I can do about the roof but try to contain the flood. Damn old house. :/

WestRiverrat's avatar

@augustlan the biggest risk you run is lightning hitting a power line several miles away and tracking on your line. I have seen a landline pay phone blow up when the line got hit 5 miles away. It cracked the receiver, and the guy using the phone couldn’t hear out of his one ear for a couple days.

DrBill's avatar

It is only dangerous for your computer. During a storm you should run from battery, run through a UPS, or shut down and unplug.

For those who do not thinl you need to unplug, consider this….
....It only takes a second to unplug, and another second to plug back in.
....Lightening travels 5–7 miles from the clouds to the ground, do you really think the ΒΌ” air gap inside the switch will stop it?

bobbinhood's avatar

I always thought that if it was plugged into a surge protector, it would be fine. Am I wrong?

blueiiznh's avatar

I love storms and old house, but feel your pain.
Have a good surge protector on all the electronics that matter.

augustlan's avatar

Well, I survived! I do have everything on a surge protector, but I’m just never sure if that’s enough.

WestRiverrat's avatar

If it is a good surge protector, maybe. If it is the little power strip surge protector, probably not.

jerv's avatar

I like a UPS. When I was in the woods in NH, we had thunderstorms quite often, and power flickers and brownouts almost on a whim. That made a good surge strip a necessity for not frying my computer, and a full-on UPS to actually use it.

I lost two cordless phones and a coffeemaker, but have yet to fry a computer despite having it plugged in and usually powered up at the time.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Dangerous. In 2008 our front yard was struck by lightning. The surge came straight into my room through the electrical socket and fried my computer while I was on wis.dm and AIM chat. I was sitting on a wooden vanity bench and got knocked backwards even though I don’t recall feeling anything.

It was an expensive lesson to learn.

Blondesjon's avatar

How dangerous do you want it to be?

lillycoyote's avatar

@Blondesjon LOL. Some of us just need to live on the edge. We’re in the middle of a thunder and lighting storm and I because I am into Extreme Hygiene, I’m jumping into the shower right now, with my laptop, plugged into a surge protector. How dangerous do I want it to be? Plenty dangerous. :- )

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@lillycoyote: For some reason, I expect no less of you ;)

lillycoyote's avatar

@Neizvestnaya I was considering adding the blow dryer but that is extremely risky and I think I’m going to leave that for my finale at the X-Games, Showering Division. If I can pull that one off, I will be legend!

lillycoyote's avatar

Yeah, Auggie survived and her computer equipment did too.

augustlan's avatar

We did, and the roof only leaked for a few minutes. Yay!

lillycoyote's avatar

@augustlan How did the porch hold up? :-) I’m absolutely certain you have a porch on your house. Tell me it isn’t so.

augustlan's avatar

I do have a front porch, and it made it through the night, too. :)

downtide's avatar

@augustlan I’m glad everything survived. Including you.

mattbrowne's avatar

It’s all about cables, i.e. power cable and network cable. With a laptop and WLAN, the damage is usually limited to the WLAN router, DSL splitter and ISDN switchboard. Happened to us 5 years ago. My kids were devastated. No Internet for 2 days, before everything was replaced.

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