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Lightning FAQ: Why does lightning/static electricity damage electronics?

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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Electronic chips have very delicate, microscopic circuitry that is easily damaged by even small sparks from static electricity. Most other appliances, like washers, refrigerators, lamps, etc. usually don't have a lot of electronic components, so static electricity usually won't harm them.

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However, a direct or very close lightning strike can destroy ANY electric appliance, electronic or non-electronic, if the large lightning current flows through them. Lightning current can burn up wires inside appliances, motors, and household electrical circuits.

Due to the highly sensitive nature of electronics, a surge from a power line malfunction or a far-away lightning strike to a power line could be enough to cause permanent damage to electronic appliances, which is why using a surge protection device is recommended. Remember, however, that there is no guarantee that a surge protector will help in the event of a very close or direct strike.

See Also:

Lightning Protection Systems
What protection systems do and don't do.
MYTH: Surge protectors and UPS devices offer sufficient lightning protection.

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