Blowing a fuse: The fatal connection between gadgets and thunderstorms

Around 2,500 people die in lightning strikes around India each year. — © AFP

Lightning, an uncontrolled and unpredictable form of electricity and it can bring disastrous consequences when combined with the gadgets in the home. In an electrical storm, hundreds of millions of volts dart through the atmosphere, and anything remotely conductive in its path could offer an unintended route to the ground.

“Devices plugged into the wall during a storm essentially create a path for the lightning to follow into your home,” expert Emmett Lane of Geonode has told Digital Journal. “Once the lightning hits the electrical system of your house, it then follows the wiring, which eventually leads to your device.”

The ‘shocking’ truth is that even if lightning does not directly strike your home, it can still cause a power surge that could destroy all devices plugged into electric outlets.

Using gadgets during a thunderstorm could turn deadly.

Lane outlines the main risks as:

Electrocution Hazard

One of the most immediate dangers of using gadgets during a thunderstorm is the risk of electrocution. Lightning, with its powerful electrical charge, can strike homes, trees, and anything in its path. When you’re using a plugged-in device like a laptop or smartphone, you become a potential conductor for that lightning. If lightning were to strike your home, the electrical surge could travel through your devices and into your body, resulting in severe injury or even death.

Fire Risk

Gadgets, especially those with lithium-ion batteries, can heat up during use. If lightning strikes your home and causes a power surge, it could overload your gadgets, leading to a fire hazard. It’s not uncommon for electronic devices to malfunction during power surges, and the consequences can be disastrous if a fire starts during a thunderstorm.

Damaging Power Surges

Lightning can cause power surges that go beyond just harming your gadgets. It can damage the electrical infrastructure in your home, leading to costly repairs and replacements. Surge protectors may offer some protection, but they are not fool proof, especially when lightning is involved. It’s better to unplug your devices entirely during a storm to minimize the risk.


Using gadgets during a thunderstorm can be distracting, diverting your attention from the immediate dangers outside. You might miss important emergency alerts or fail to notice worsening weather conditions. Your focus should be on staying safe during the storm, not on your screen.

Outdoor Hazards

Using gadgets outdoors during a thunderstorm is even riskier. If you’re caught in the open with a metal device in your hand, you become a prime target for lightning strikes. Seeking shelter is the best course of action when you’re outdoors during a storm, and using gadgets can discourage you from doing so.

Water Damage

Thunderstorms often bring heavy rain. Using gadgets, especially if you’re near open windows or doors, can expose them to water damage. Water and electronics don’t mix well, and even a small amount of moisture can lead to device malfunction or electrical hazards.

Following the presentation of the risks, Lane advises on steps to take to minimize risk:

  • Stay away from all wired gadgets: To emanate safety, avoid using laptops, mobile phones, or any other electronic appliances during a thunderstorm.
  • Unplug your gadgets: Disconnect all electrical appliances from their source to minimize any risk of electrical surge.
  • Invest in surge protectors: Though not fool proof, surge protectors can save your device during mild power surges.
  • Avoid showers: Water is a good conductor of electricity. Therefore, avoid showering or washing dishes during a thunderstorm.

The ultimate takeaway from Lane is with unplugging devices or suspending their use. This may feel like an inconvenience but justified compared to the potential harm and damage caused by a single lightning-induced power surge.

Blowing a fuse: The fatal connection between gadgets and thunderstorms
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