Lightning Strikes AA4XX Radio Shack

Lightning Strikes AA4XX Radio Shack

One sultry afternoon in August of 2011, a series of severe thunderstorms passed over my property, and upon arriving home after work, I decided to walk  the 1/4 mile or so from my house to make sure everything was OK at the radio site.

The only immediate sign of damage was a melted piece of ladder line near where it entered the shack

lightning melted ladder line

I was relieved to see that there were no signs of physical damage to the exterior of the building; However, upon opening the door to the shack, I was met with a rather horrific sight.  The chair below was one of the main operator’s chairs.

AA4XX lightning strike burned operating chair

The main operating tables were also ruined

Main operating table at AA4XX radio shack ruined by lightning strike

The plastic netting that was used to support the ceiling insulation ignited and rained molten plastic all over the tables, shelving, chairs, and floor.

AA4XX radio shack lightning strike caused multiple burn sites in ceiling

The ARRL Antenna Handbook that used to reside on the left end of the bookshelf was turned to powdery ash.  A 2×4″ stud immediately behind the bookcase sustained significant burns as it shunted lightning energy to ground.

lightning strike at AA4XX radio shack turns ARRL Antenna Handbook into powdery ash

I shudder to think what it would have been like to have been inside the building during the actual strike.

Five separate transmission lines were routed into the radio shack, and there were signs of burned insulation at each entry site.

None of the antenna feedlines had any type of surge protectors installed on them.  I had been a ham for 40+ years, and I figured the odds were that I’d get by without having to worry about a direct hit.

I now disconnect all feed lines that enter my radio shack except when I am actually using the antennas.  Some of us have to learn the hard way.

Please learn from my costly mistake, a mistake that could have been fatal; Don’t invite lightning into your radio shack.

6 thoughts on “Lightning Strikes AA4XX Radio Shack

  1. According to the reference link below, a lightning rod is designed to help prevent the buildup of an electrical charge on a protected building (for example) so that the charge bleeds off fast enough to keep the voltage differential to the clouds below the level needed to conduct current flow through the atmosphere. But in spite of the Empire State building lightning protection, it gets hit with lightning about 100 times a year. I would hate to have been in that radio shack even with a good lightning rod or two knowing that lightning will sometimes strike anyways with the energy dissipating through multiple paths of least resistance. How much current did we say a lightning rod ground wire can handle? Certainly not thousands of amperes! So should we install a lightning rods on our radio shacks or not? The reference suggests the answer is yes.

    1. I appreciate your comments and the interesting link, Bob.

      In retrospect, I made several serious mistakes with the
      layout of my shack. Most importantly, there was no single
      point grounding provided for the antenna lead ins.
      Consequently, the lightning energy used multiple exit points
      throughout the building, as evidenced by burned paper backing
      on the insulation where each antenna feedline exited the building.
      Secondly, the ceiling insulation was restrained with plastic
      netting, which was set ablaze by the adjacent burning paper.
      Thirdly, the paper backing on the insulation was not properly
      covered with a nonflammable material.

      A new shack is now nearing completion, and each of the above
      problems have been addressed. That will be the subject of my
      next blog.

      Many hams swear that there is no way to protect a shack from
      a direct lightning strike. I personally don’t buy into that
      line of thinking. It does take a good bit of effort and expense
      to protect one’s station, but I believe we should strive to make
      our stations as safe as humanly possible.

      Honestly, I have not given the subject of lightning rods much
      thought, as my shack is well below the surrounding tall trees.
      My wire antennas, which are high in those trees, are probably
      more of a target than the building itself; Nevertheless, your
      comments have given me an additional safety concern to ponder.
      Thanks again for your comments.

      73, Paul AA4XX

  2. Hi Paul, a very good idea to publish this story and to spread the word and warning about the destructive nature of one of the great natural elements of our planet. It brings to mind the thought that all natural phenomena should be treated with great respect.
    73 Dick N4hay

    1. Hi Dick, Thank you for your comments. I know you have seen the damage first hand, and I look forward to our restoring the Excalibur site over the coming months. 72, Paul

  3. I also had a direct hit of lightning many years ago while I was at work. I already had the habit of disconnecting my equipment from the antenna and power during down time, so no damage there. My 10 meter beam was not harmed either but the rotor had to be repaired. The rest of my house wasn’t as lucky as I lost the TV, Stereo, AM/FM Radio, refrigerator and many light bulbs. The TV and Stereo had front end damage as well as from the power supply end. I was truly amazed at the power lightning has. But as you mentioned, I am glad you were not present during that strike. I currently live in the Tampa area and have become accustomed to the frequent lightning and destruction it can bring. It is important to be overly cautious.

    1. Michael, thank you for sharing your experience with lightning striking your home. I agree with you that we can never be too careful where lightning is concerned.

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