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Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thunderstorms?

Posted by coody (My Page) on
Sat, Jul 9, 11 at 10:31

All the nonsense electronic devices plugged into the same surge protector such as TV, DVD were not damaged but the sensor electronic devices such as Wii console, Wireless home theater system and wireless weather forecaster were damaged. Can you explain why sensor or wireless electronic device is easily damaged from the thunderstorm lightning and how to effectively protect the wireless device from the thunderstorms and lightning strikes? Thank you.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

Perhaps the most effective protection is to disconnect the devices, i.e. pull the plug/antenna when a storm approaches. Why some devices were damaged while others were not is mostly a combination of Murphy's Law, luck and which device(s) on a partcular circuit flashover/breakdown first. For instance, a $ 1000 TV will usually fail first to protect a $30 cordless telephone. The fact that some devices are "wireless" probably is not a factor.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

Antennas are designed to collect electric and/or magnetic field energy from transmissions.

The fields produced by lightning strikes are far larger than regular signals, and if the equipment is close enough to a strike (or even a down wire carrying a strike) signals large enough to cause damage can be coupled into the antenna and then the electrinics the antenna is connected to.

LAN lines are a common victim since they are physically large/long in extent and connected to relatively sensitive electronics and difficult to protect while allowing them to function correctly.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

brickeyee, you made sense. Can you or anyone tell how to effectively protect wireless network electronics from the thunderstorms and lightning strikes?


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

"Can you or anyone tell how to effectively protect wireless network electronics from the thunderstorms and lightning strikes?"

Other than disconnecting them and tuning them off (and even of only reduces the risk without eliminating it) there is not a lot a consumer can do.

It does not take much to stop a LAN or wireless signal cold by loading it down, and every type of projection device produces some circuit loading.

The manufacturers are in the best spot to add additional protection features to the electronics, but there is not much market force to push them further than the static discharge protection they already include.

Even when turned off if the electromagnetic fields from a lightning stoke are powerful enough (and the closer you are the stronger the fields are) they can couple into the internal circuitry of electronic devices.

An antenna still couples signals even if the equipment is turned off, and presenting electronics with voltages above their power supply (zero when they are off) can easily cause damage (the typical protection circuitry requires power present to operate effectively).

The fact that many of the antennas are now internal means they cannot even be disconnected by the user (and even when 'off' many pieces still have at least some portion of their electronics operating).


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

You said right. "They can couple into the internal circuitry of electronic devices." My Wii consol got damaged even it was turned off but plugged into the surge protector. I have it repaired and I was told the main circuit board was replaced. Apparently, some component was fired due to the lightning. My wireless home theatre system might have the same problem, circuit board fired. Can you tell me whether it has difference between turn off and unplug power in the protection of the sensor or wireless electronics while there is a thunderstorm? Do I have to unplug the power from the surge protector?


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

To the extreme end of things, you can:

1) Move to Alaska (very few lightning strikes there)
2) Disconnect equipment and then place the equipment in an insulated box inside a fully enclosing metal box that's grounded.

In my life, I put expensive electronic equipment behind high-capacity surge protectors, and live with the results. I don't have any external antennae, and my power is delivered to the house via underground feeders, which helps to reduce the risk.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

:I don't have any external antennae, and my power is delivered to the house via underground feeders, which helps to reduce the risk."

The risk form lightning is NOT just conducted on wiring.

It can also be electromagnetically coupled, just as every radio operates.
The issue is that a close strike produces fields of very high amplitude (and very fast changes in amplitude).

Even unplugged systems can be damaged if the strike is close enough.

About the best you can do is use some decent surge protectors, replace them periodically (they are damaged every time they operate to clamp a surge), and hope the manufacturer put at least some decent protection in the hardware (integrated circuits).

Additional metallic shielding can attenuate the coupling fields, but in the case of wireless equipment using radio technology (as opposed to light technology like infra red connections) shielding can interfere with operation.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

I do plug all the electronic devices into a surge protector but it seems no effect on the sensor devices because the lightning strikes seem not hit the device through the wiring but wirelessly due to the sensor. So, I am thinking the best way is probably to disconnect or remove the sensor bar from the device or console which means disable the sensor. By the way, what brand surge protector and joule at least do you recommend?


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

I use Leviton 32120-1 for my whole house suppression, and also Leviton 7380 receptacles. The whole house unit is rated to service up to 80kA of surge current. The receptacles are rated at 24kA (which equates to about 1100 joules). These units all have an audio alarm on them to let me know when they have failed. This is particularly important for locations like my communications distribution box which is in the basement and hidden from normal viewing.

I'm not selling these products, but like the way that they function and look, and they're readily available. I don't like the look of surge-suppression power strips, so I use them only when absolutely necessary.

You have to be careful that you don't spend more on power suppression than the value of the devices it is intended to protect (times the frequency that you expect damage).


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

While it is possible to have an RF induced charge into a wireless product from a lighting strike, the chances of it in a consumer electronics product are slim.

The Wii console uses Infra Red from the sensor to the remote and Bluetooth back to the console - very low level RF.

The wireless home theater system usually uses 2.4 GHz to the rear speakers - the same as most cordless phones. Again, at very low RF power levels.

The wireless weather forecaster, often at 433 MHz, can lose sync very easily by any RF disturbance and I would simply try a reset of both units first.

Ambient static electricity built-up within the area of a nearby lightning strike, can cause some real problems however.

The most common problem here is that consumer electronics, especially the wireless type you describe, are often powered by wall-wort transformers that do not provide the product with any direct earth grounding. Any internal grounds and shielding never actually return to an earth ground.

While damage to the internal ICs from static electricity and high voltage discharges into i/o pins has increased quite a bit from early CMOS devices, it is still a very common problem with component failure.

As far as somebody using the word fired (or fried) to describe the need to replace a circuit board, after being told it was a lighting strike, well it's just a figure of speech - unless of course the product was actually hit by lightning.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

It is the required sensitivity of the equipment to use "low level RF" that makes it vulnerable to lightning.

The lower the operating signal levels, the more they are vulnerable to overloading that can result in damage unless they have been designed with adequate limiting (but limiting also affects device performance).

"As far as somebody using the word fired (or fried) to describe the need to replace a circuit board, after being told it was a lighting strike, well it's just a figure of speech - unless of course the product was actually hit by lightning. "

"Fried:" has been an electronic slang term for many years to indicate a device or board has had a failure.

It does NOT take a direct strike to produce damage.
Simply being very close to the down wire carrying a strike to earth is enough, let alone any electronics using RF links.

Almost any frequency band is vulnerable sine the strike electromagnetic field is high power and relatively broadband. It may not even need to couple in the 'normal operating mode' of the electronics.

While antennas all have a less than infinite bandwidth, they can still operate to capture energy out of band at higher power levels.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

The weather forecaster has a wireless sensor hanged outside of the house. It transmitted the temperature signal to the indoor weather forecaster. Since the damage of the electric devices happened after I recently bought an indoor/outdoor weather forecaster, is it possible the outside wireless sensor helped transmission of the lightning into the house that damaged other sensor/wireless electric devices? Of course, that weather forecaster has also been damaged but I do not know whether that weather forecaster is a major cause of the damages.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

"Since the damage of the electric devices happened after I recently bought an indoor/outdoor weather forecaster, is it possible the outside wireless sensor helped transmission of the lightning into the house that damaged other sensor/wireless electric devices? "

Very possible, especially if the sensor system is connected to the AC power inside the house (very unlikely if it is a battery operated system).

A signal coupled into the sensor (or its connection wire) may have made its way to the hot or neutral of the AC power system through the power supply of the weather system, and then on to other electronics through their power connection.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

Great posts.

This explains why I kept having to replace my PC's modem card after nearby lightning strikes. Now that I have DSL, I unplug the DSL line and the entire surge protector during an approaching storm to lessen the chance of damage.

Based upon what has been said, I suspect the old tube TV sets required a direct lightning strike on the antenna to cause damage.

This also explains why a nuclear blast can induce damaging electric current in today's sophisticated electronic devices bringing a nation to its knees.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

" "Since the damage of the electric devices happened after I recently bought an indoor/outdoor weather forecaster, is it possible the outside wireless sensor helped transmission of the lightning into the house that damaged other sensor/wireless electric devices? "

Very possible, especially if the sensor system is connected to the AC power inside the house (very unlikely if it is a battery operated system).

A signal coupled into the sensor (or its connection wire) may have made its way to the hot or neutral of the AC power system through the power supply of the weather system, and then on to other electronics through their power connection."

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Brickeyee:

If I understand your reply here correctly, you are saying that lightning could have induced RF energy into the battery operated wireless outdoor thermometer, then transmitted that energy via it's RF link, back into the base station, and then sent it back into the AC lines, where it damaged other electronic equipment. Well, Tesla would have been impressed!

Lightning strikes that do not produce a direct, or nearby hit of significant force, or induce a surge on incoming AC lines, damage RF equipment via a static discharge that causes junction failure in semiconductors in the front-end.

That is why in consumer antenna and satellite installations, a grounding block is (or should be) installed on the incoming coax - more appropriately called a "static discharge block" - to prevent these types of failure. Simple air currents produce static electricity on the antenna or dish, and thunder storms produce a much greater level of static electricity.

You may notice that most satellite boxes, such as Dish and DirecTV, also use three prong AC cords, to provide additional grounding to help prevent these type of problems.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

"If I understand your reply here correctly, you are saying that lightning could have induced RF energy into the battery operated wireless outdoor thermometer"

NO, I did not understand the outside device was wireless and battery operated.

There is no way for the a remote battery RF devices to facilitate lightning entering the AC power system.

A wired sensor CAN provide a signal path into other systems.
The antenna for the interior portion of the thermometer (IF is is AC powered) could provide a path into the AC wiring though.
Antennas are antennas, they couple energy.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

We have a great discussion about the cause of the damage of sensor electric devices due to the thunderstorms and lightning strikes. My outside weather forecaster sensor is battery operated. I do not know whether it is a major cause of the damage of the other inside house sensor electric device. But, I will not use outdoor weather forecaster.

Yesterday my area has another thunderstorm. I tried to found whether it is the thunder or lightning cause the failure of the electric devices. I noticed while the louder thunder occurs, all the electric clocks (AC powered) failed as well as the microwave clock. So, the loud thunder caused the failure of the electric device but rather lightning strikes. Can you explain why the loud thunder can cause the failure of the electric device as well as wired telephone?


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

The louder the thunder the closer the lightning. You have really got to be kidding.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

Do you mean the thunder must occur with the lightning? I did not notice the lightning but heard loud thunder. Then the electric clocks stopped working. I wonder whether it is the thunder or lightning causes the damage of the electric device.


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RE: Why sensor electronics are easily damaged from the thundersto

Lightning is sound, and travels around 1100 feet/second.

Lightning is the actual arc (flow of current) that superheats the atmosphere creating both the visual affects and the sound from the rapidly expanding gas.

Sound should not have any affect on electronics, beyond microphones and other deices that may have some piezoelectric response.

The sound is attenuated a lot faster then the light.

If you see the flash and count seconds, dividing by 5 will give the approximate distance in miles to the actual stroke.

It can get 'smeared' since the stroke itself can be miles long.


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