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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

Content copyright © 1995 - 2019 to Bruce Simpson (aka Aardvark), the logo was kindly created for Aardvark Daily by the folks at aardvark.co.uk



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The joys of thunder and lightning

31 May 2019

Here we are, the last day of autumn 2019 and it's good to be alive.

As I write this, shortly after 4am, the skies are flashing and growling with huge bolts of lightning and claps of thunder.

Although I can't smell it (damned Parkinson's) I'm sure that the air is alive with the sizzle and sweet smell of ozone.

Gusts of wind are hurling waves of heavy rain against the roof, creating an awesome din that is a constant reminder of nature's power.

But it's not (yet) cold so it's the perfect weather to say goodbye to autumn and prepare for the forecast plunging temperatures of tomorrow.

However, it's worth remembering that just a few short years ago, I would not have dared to remain connected to the internet during a weather event such as this.

I think I must have lost at least four or five modems to lightning by remaining connected during thunder storms or being caught out by a "bolt out of the blue" when I wasn't expecting it.

Of course those were the days when power and telephone lines were all strung up above the ground, providing the perfect target for lightning and the resulting huge voltage spikes it produces. Even if you weren't so unfortunate as to be the victim of a direct strike, the induced voltages caused by a nearby bolt of lightning could fry the front-end of a modem in a few brief microseconds.

As with all bursts of electrical current, a bolt of lighting produces a rapidly changing magnetic flux that induces voltages (and if there's a closed circuit) currents in nearby conductors, often with disastrous effects on sensitive electronics.

We're talking about nature's own EMP weapon!

As a result of this, I would always unplug my modems from the phone line before going to bed and in the event of a thunderstorm -- but every now and then you'd get caught out and nature would get its revenge.

These days however, things are quite a bit different.

Not only are power lines usually buried underground (where they're far less affected by these lightning-induced EMPs) but if you're on UFB then your broadband arrives via an insulator, not a conductor.

The tiny glass fiber that carries the optical signal to the box on the wall is totally immune to EMP so there's very little risk to your gear if you continue to surf the web or use Netflix in a thunderstorm. Your power feed is protected by up to a metre of damp soil and your data circuit provides no return path, even if some voltage is induced in the house-wiring.

Happy days!

I guess there's another benefit also.

I strongly doubt that anyone's satellite TV service was working this morning at 4:30am. Rain fade would have almost certainly caused the signal to drop below usable levels. Netflix, and other streaming services however, would have chugged on just fine for those on UFB.

The only real potential problem in such "weather events" now is the loss of power completely, possibly due to some transformer or substation being directly struck by lightning or suffering wind damage.

Even then, my 1KVA UPS has enough battery to last an hour or so -- and this is a great improvement also on yester-year.

Back in the day of CRT monitors, my UPS was only good for a few minutes -- the power-hungry screens sucking the life out of those tiny lead-acid batteries. Today's LED-backlit LCDs however, just sip power by comparison -- giving me at least 40 minutes of totally safe use as my UPS powers the UFB gear, router and PCs on my desk -- albeit in the dark.

Yes, now the "connected" community can finally enjoy nature's splendour without fear!

Damn... the storm has passed already. I was enjoying that!

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