By Shamus Posted Friday Jun 6, 2008

Filed under: Personal 42 comments

Dear Planet Earth,

You owe me a new wireless router and a network interface card.

Do be more careful with the lightning bolts in the future. I don’t really see a need for such dramatics.

Your humble inhabitant,


P.S. Lose the humidity. It sucks.

It was a really freaky storm. Most of the day was sunny, with smothering humidity. We heard the low rumbles in the distance as the storm went through its warmups. It was still during work hours and the storm sounded a ways off, so I didn’t worry about it. I usually power down during really bad storms, but this didn’t sound like much so I ignored it and kept working.

Then there was a single devastating crack. I powered everything down. There was twenty minutes of rain, and then it all cleared up again. Ignoring the rumblings in the distance, that single lightning bolt was the only one. But it sounded close.

When I brought the power back on I discovered that my wireless router was screwed up, as well as the built-in network card in my computer. The computers themselves are behind multiple surge protectors, but (duh) the router itself was plugged in directly to the wall. The lightning found and exploited that weakness in my defenses.

This is annoying, but I count myself very lucky. The odds of getting struck by lightning are low, but once it happens the odds that it will only obliterate part of a computer are even lower. This network card is built into the motherboard, which means a flood of untamed energy came in and then stopped once it had destroyed the cheapest and most easily replaceable integrated component. It took me longer to isolate the problem than it did to swap in a network card from another machine.

The spike or surge or whatever it was also blew a circuit breaker for the kitchen, which won’t reset.

Strange thing to have happen.


From The Archives:

42 thoughts on ““Zap”

  1. Cincinnatus says:

    Same thing happened at my home a couple summers back–the network interface card, through the router (curse you, installation man, who didn’t ground the cable like you promised!) Thing is, the whole computer wouldn’t start because we had this fried hunk o’ debris sitting there.

    A caution: there’s a good chance your household appliances will now die at a much faster rate. They survived the bolt, but their hp is down to nothing now, and that nasty second law of thermodynamics will have a greatly accelerated field day. We’ve since lost all the appliances that should last years, and had to replace them all at great cost. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. :(

  2. Hal says:

    Sorry to hear it, Shamus. My cousin lost the power supply on his computer during a storm last weekend. Myself, I’ve been through more wireless routers than you can shake a stick at. Stupid weather.

  3. Jeremiah says:

    We’ve been getting some crazy storms here (Kansas City), too. Thankfully I’ve been lucky so far.

    Glad you didn’t lose too much. In my last job (we installed security, audio, video, and automation controls in houses) we had a client get hit by lightning. Hit one of the security cameras. I don’t know how many thousands of dollars of equipment got fried. Not to mention how hard some problems can be to track down. If equipment doesn’t get outright fried, a lot of really strange problems manifest after something like that.

  4. Ian says:

    It was great fun over here in Maryland. Much to my surprise, we only lost power once, very briefly (my apartment complex has a nasty tendency of losing power at the drop of a hat), the it was definitely more than a one strike affair here.

    I ended up walking onto our covered balcony and just watched the storm. There were bolts of lightning zipping across the sky. Per Maryland storm standards, some of them were ridiculously huge. It was incredible.

    And to think, I used to be afraid of storms when I was younger. :P

    Sucks to hear about your NIC and router, though. Hopefully that’s as far as that nasty bolt got within your system.

  5. I had never _heard_ of rain in the Summer until last year when I went to DC. I didn’t realize California weather was so different from the rest of the country. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it…

  6. LazerFX says:

    Wow… never had such a thing happen in boring old UK. Though we have had two earthquakes (Around 5.odd on the Richter scale) in the past 10 years… the last one was just a couple of months ago.

    That’s interesting ;)

  7. Tachevert says:

    I had a similar occurrence several years ago, but with more devastating results. My PC was already on the fence — sometimes, it took a couple of attempts to boot it — and the lightning strike was the end of things. The strike also took out my cable modem, router, and fiancée’s onboard NIC.

    That’s the scariest part in my story as well — the NIC went, but everything else on the mobo survived! Hooray for small favors. And since, as a card-carrying geek, I have a pile of random cards including NICs, it was a quick repair.

  8. Stark says:

    Shamus, if you have a breaker that won’t reset you very likley have other damage to the homes eletrical system. It’s possible it’s just the breaker that’s fried but I wouldn’t bet my home on it. You’ve probably already done this but, just in case you haven’t, get a licensed electrician out there to check the system over ASAP. Electrical fires suck.

  9. Davesnot says:

    Actually.. electrical fires don’t suck.. that’s a chest wound.. electrical fires burn stuff up.. and.. well.. you know first hand how fires can be… …

    I’m guessing that Lightning isn’t covered by your insurance (what actually is covered by insurance).. but maybe it is.. and if so.. the cost of the electrician.. which no self-respecting do-it-yourselfer would ever call.. that cost could be covered.. at the very least, it’s tax deductible for your home office…

    but.. as I said.. certainly you can’t call an electrician.. so I suggest allowing your wife to do so.

  10. Sauron says:

    @Punning Pundit:

    “I didn't realize California weather was so different from the rest of the country.”

    You probably also don’t realize that California doesn’t have weather, it just has hot. Drive north for a day until you hit Oregon or Washington. We’ll show you what weather is, any time of the year. (Of course, I’m in California for school right now, but not the point.)

  11. xbolt says:

    Ouch… Sorry your stuff got fried.

    But yeah, you’ll probably want to check out the rest of the wiring after that.

  12. radioteletype says:

    Huh, the same thing happened on two different machines to me (the integrated NICs went dead) last week.

  13. God of Networking says:

    The God of Networking is angry at your lack of faith.

  14. Namfoodle says:


    You should get a Lightning Rod! Someone who lived about a quarter mile down the street from my Grandfather in Scituate, Mass had a lightning rod on the peak of their roof. During a thunderstorm, I could look out an upstairs window and watch the bolts hit their house. It was pretty cool. The lightning rod seemed to attract anything was destined to strike with a half mile or more.

    @ Punning Pundit:

    I’m with you on the summer rain thing. I went to Chicago in the summer and didn’t pack an umbrella, because, as you well know, it never rains between May and September.

    Oops, in Chicago, it does. And my work was too cheap to put me up in one of those nice hotels that pass out free umbrellas. (The hotel I stayed in was so cheap my co-worker foung a flea on her bed. I thought “fleabag hotel” was just an expression!)

  15. Zaghadka says:

    Hmm. Maybe God is telling you to stop blogging? :P

    I hope nothing else goes wrong for a while. You’ve had it rough lately. Best of luck.

  16. Samrobb says:

    Heh :-) Welcome to the club. I live on a farm NE of Pittsburgh – we loose power probably once a month, depending on weather. Usually just for a few seconds before everything kicks in again, but man, it can be annoying. I’ve really learned to love my laptop’s battery and the UPS.

    We had a lightning strike/power surge last year that managed to fry three computers despite the UPS/surge protector, though it got the power supplies only, thankfully. That surge also took out a TV and turned an in-windows AC into 40 pounds of scrap metal. I kind of figured there was going to be trouble when the transformer across the gully from our house blew out in a shower of sparks and a sharp “CRACK!” loud enough to wake up both my wife and I from a dead sleep at 4am.

  17. Cadamar says:

    Keep an eye on the rest of your mother board.
    It’s unlikely that the damage was limited to the network interface. I had a mother board burst into flames on me once after a slow degridation started by a power surge.

  18. McNutcase says:

    California doesn’t have weather, aside from the Bay Area. It just has climate. Admittedly, I’m biased due to being a Brit…

  19. FlameKiller says:

    I think I heard that storm and I’m in Toronto! Then again it was around 10:00 that it came rolling by me.

  20. Cat Skyfire says:

    Dear Mr. Shamus:

    If you don’t like the humidity, try the desert. I did my best there to make it dry. As for the lightning, you’ll have to direct that to the special effects department.

    Planet Earth

  21. Kristin says:

    Planet Earth,

    And we in the desert love you for it. Even when it’s 105 degrees outside we can stand to be outdoors.

    Kristin the Desert Rat

  22. Ian says:

    @Samrobb: You only lose power once a month? You’re lucky.

    I live in the middle of suburbia and we get quick power interruptions every couple of weeks (FOR SOME REASON). I’ll just be sitting there and everything will very suddenly reset. When I lived in Ohio (pretty close to where you live, from the sound of it — I’m from Struthers, which is near Youngstown) I’d be able to get 90 day uptimes easily. Here, I’m lucky to get 30 days with clear weather. <_< And, naturally, the electric company charges out the nose for their disservices. I guess that's to be expected, though.

  23. roxysteve says:

    (In a voice similar to that used by Hal in 2001) PLANET EARTH TO SHAMUS:

    Considering what happened to your electrical infrastructure when you got a near miss, whaddaya think would happen if I were to let one of my “Jupiter Specials” touch down on your electric service entrance or maybe the faucet for your garden hose? Nothin’ says “Hi there” like a house full of elecrified steam with a side order of copper shrapnel or an exploding fridge.

    Broken router? Pah! It probably went nails-up on account of the RFI alone. Next time I’ll actually try a bit and melt your phones so you’ll have something real to complain about.

    Stop whining and trade a few of those oh-so-fragile LSI integrated circuits for a hunchback with some kites and a Jacob’s Ladder.

    Planet Earth out.


  24. Eric says:

    Back in the 80s, when I was a kid, we had lightning hit right next to the house during a storm. When I turned on the PC after the storm ended, I heard this horrible buzzing noise come out, and immediately turned it off again. Later, my dad and I tried it again, and we realized it wasn’t mechanical — it was dial tone. The internal modem card (a 2400bps, if I recall correctly) had gotten fried into on-hook mode. The happy news was that it had heroically sacrificed itself to save the rest of the computer….

  25. Mari says:

    @Kristin – speak for yourself. I’ve been whining and moaning for over a month at the triple digit heat and the single digit humidity and I’ve lived in this god-forsaken desert all my life.

    @Planet Earth – I have a question…how do you make rain and hail happen with 6% humidity? I’m dead curious about our recent weather.

    @Shamus – dude, that blows chunks. Live and learn and at least it was a fairly cheap lesson.

  26. lplimac says:

    @Punning Pundit:
    “I didn't realize California weather was so different from the rest of the country.”

    @ Sauron:
    You probably also don't realize that California doesn't have weather, it just has hot. Drive north for a day until you hit Oregon or Washington. We'll show you what weather is, any time of the year. (Of course, I'm in California for school right now, but not the point.)

    I guess the thunder storms, hail and three tornados that hit SoCal near the end of May was my just my imagination then ;)
    Besides we have all four seasons in SoCal… Earthquake, Fire, riots and flood…

  27. Cuthalion says:

    @Punning Pundit

    I went to Northern California (Redding) for a year for college… it was creepy. It didn’t rain for like a MONTH after I got there! That’s just wierd…

    I live in western Washington State, where we start ritual sacrificing black bears on the peak of Mt. Rainier if there’s no rain for two weeks. It usually works.

  28. Sauron says:

    “I guess the thunder storms, hail and three tornados that hit SoCal near the end of May was my just my imagination then.”

    That’s just California trying to pretend it has weather. I mean, one week in how long? And the hail wasn’t even that bad.

  29. @lplimac: You can’t fool me! SoCal isn’t really California!

    @Sauron: It gets hot, it gets cold, it gets windy, it gets rainy, there are parts with snow. What else do you want? What it _doesn’t_ do is get all those things in one fracking day– and usually not in the same month. Before I went to Hawaii– and then confirmed again in DC, I thought that 80F was a pleasant temperature. I had never realized that it could be _miserable_…

  30. Shandrunn says:

    What a coincidence. I just had my weekly phone call with my parents, and their whole neighbourhood had stuff zapped by a lightning strike. They had their printer/scanner/copier/fax machine fried. Luckily with the way prices on these things keep dropping, the insurance is paying enough to buy a new one.

  31. Neal White says:

    I deal with lightning strikes often – and the insurance companies that insure things like houses and computers. In Minnesota there is a clause in almost all policies that states you can file for “hidden damage” for 2 years after a reported lightning strike. (your milage may vary) Make sure your insurance carrier knows about the breaker that won’t reset and if your computer dies a whimpering death in 4 months you can blame planet earth. In my 14 years dealing with surge and lightning damage no computer has lasted more than 6 months – most die in less than 3
    Good luck.

  32. Kilmor says:

    Exact same thing happened to me. Linksys cable modem + wireless gateway combo, cable coming in wasn’t going through any kind of surge protection.

    Except, both my computers had onboard networking. Mine would sporatically boot up, the wifes’ would only boots up if you physically remove any power to it for a couple hours, ie no “Soft Off”. Mine finally gave up the ghost after 6 months and I had to upgrade.

  33. Will says:

    I am reminded of the Mark Twain quote: “The trouble ain’t that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain’t distributed right.”

  34. Chris Arndt says:

    Stop complaining. A lightning bolt once wiped out my dial-up modem one summer.

    I was internetless for a month, with no idea what could be wrong, until I ruled out all else, tried figuring out what it could be.Then once I figured out “it was the modem” I stressed to replace it for weeks then I realized!: that free modem I got from CompUSA (for the total rebate) I slapped in my ebay pile. I pulled it out, installed it and slow internet was a breeze!

  35. Mephane says:

    I never power down during a thunderstorm. It might have to do with a 17-level-building almost directly next to our 3-level-house, making a huge lightning rod for us.^^

  36. Thomas says:

    I see you have discovered the prime duty of expensive sillicon, which is to heroically sacrifice itself to protect the cheap fuses. Like a friend’s energy-saver bulb, which gave its life so that the circuit breaker didn’t have to (just as he turned it on, there was a tremendous flash/bang from the storm outside, followed instantly by a bright flash inside as the bulb died).

    Thinking about surge protectors, some of the better ones come with a warranty for anything plugged into them. You might be able to claim the cost of a network card and/or other computer parts on that. Do check the small print though, as for some it only applies as long as everything (power, coax, network, phones) goes through a surge protector.

  37. Alexis says:

    36 comments on some lightning. Impressive!

    Time to buy appliance insurance?

  38. Nilus says:

    Actually Shamus could check his policy. Homeowners insurance might cover the damage. Of course a new network card and router is probably less then his deductible so its not worth it.

  39. Ian says:

    @Nilus: A lot of manufacturers are wise and don’t cover “acts of God.” I suppose some very generous plans might, but many of the ones that I’ve seen are pretty restrictive — they only cover spontaneous unit failure (if he’s still in the warranty period, even).

    Still worth a shot, though. Routers aren’t the cheapest devices in the world (besides, $50 is $50).

    Edit: Why did this poor message get stuck in the moderation queue? ;_;

  40. Christian Groff says:

    I feel sorry for you, Sham. I’ve been lucky not to have a blackout, but hearing about what might happen if a big thunderhead rolls in and zaps the antenna like a Pikachu on crack makes me think seriously about turning off the breaker switch on my house whenever a big one rolls in. <_<

    I already lost a laptop computer to bad hygiene, the last thing I want is for the hard drive of my new computer to get fricasseed by a thunderbolt attack.

  41. Elewir says:

    We get some interesting spring storms in TX. My office lost two PC power supplies in one weekend. The surge protectors those PCs were plugged into, meanwhile, pulled through absolutely fine. *rolls eyes*

  42. Argon says:

    How much humidity are you talking about here, Shamus? Anything less than 50% is laughable. Such is the fun of SE Texas.

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