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Lightning striking again: sunshine state is the lightning capital of the world.

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They Say, Hearsay

My neighbor's home caught fire two years ago after being hit by lightning. Frankly, thunderstorms scare me more than the threat of hurricanes because we have them more often. But I guess there's not much we can do to about it.

We Say

April showers bring May flowers, so goes the rhyme. In Florida, those gentle showers morph into riotous thunderstorms that can happen any time of the year, making lightning strikes the weather phenomenon for all seasons. Although summer is peak season for lightning, springtime opens the door to this deadly weather threat, and the door pretty much stays open throughout hurricane season.

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Florida's geography makes it a convenient lightning target. Storm data published by the National Weather Service for reported deaths due to lightning rank Florida as the deadliest state, with 74 deaths attributed to lightning between 1998 and 2008. Number two ranked Texas had 28 deaths reported over the same 10-year timeframe.

Lightning is obviously a serious danger to people and to property. Insured losses related to damage from lightning strikes topped more than $1 billion in the U.S. for the first time in 2008. The number of lightning claims in 2009 declined, following a 39 percent increase between 2007 and 2008. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) puts the cost of the average lightning claim at $4,296.

Just as you cannot have lightning without thunder, you cannot be fully protected from lightning damage if you rely solely on surge protectors that plug into your electronics. Installing a whole-house surge protector in homes or businesses is important protection to consider for both home and business.

Lightning protection is a specialty discipline that requires trained and experienced designers and installers. The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is a nationally recognized authority on lightning protection. LPI is one of three authorities on the technical standards involved with protecting structures from damaging lightning, along with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Lightning is considered a preventable loss, and it is interesting that given the risks in Florida, people tend to overlook the importance of lightning protection in new construction or renovation projects. I think that is because while the concept of lightning protection is simple, the requirements for properly protecting buildings are specific and somewhat complex. It includes both surge protection on the main electrical panels, lightning rods, and conductor (for cable) and ground rods to help reduce structural damage to the home.

Forget those fables about lightning not hitting in the same place twice. Also outdated is the notion that a lightning rod alone on the house will do the trick. Today's buildings require more than that, and safety standards now declare that lightning protection systems be designed to protect contents, equipment, and all functions inside a facility, which means everything has to be interconnected and grounded from earth to roof level. Lightning can damage a home in two ways: by striking a home directly or by entering through electrical lines. Like many things in life, I learned this the hard way.

My home was hit by lightning twice. The first time, we lost two TVs, the washing machine, and our innocence on the threats of lightning damage. After that experience, we had a surge suppression system installed on the outside electric meter. A few years later, our home took another hit from one of those frequent, furious storms. The bolt struck the ground, traveled up the main electrical line to the house, and fried the surge protector on the outside of our house. We were unaware we had been hit until a few days later when we heard the pop-pop-pop of the circuit breakers shutting down. When we entered the garage we were blasted by the smell of frying electrical wires in the main junction box. So, the surge protector and circuit breakers did their job, and we had no damage past the junction box.

Keep in mind that lighting protection is not a do-it-yourself project, according to the LPI. Only experienced and reputable UL-listed and LPI-certified lighting protection contractors should install lighting protection systems. Qualified specialists use UL-listed materials and ensure that methods of installation comply with nationally recognized safety standards of LPI, NFPA and UL.

The approximate cost for a 3,000-square-foot home would be about $2,400, plus an additional $400 if the homeowner elects to have an UL engineer inspect the installation. It involves bonding and grounding all sensitive electrical equipment, plus roof vents, chimneys and metal objects on the roof. For Florida residents, it may be worthwhile--because lightning strikes everywhere, again and again.

Lynne McChristian is the Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute. She may be contacted at 813-480-6446, lynnem@iii.org. Also, see www.InsuringFlorida.org for her insurance blog, "Straight Talk."
Homeowners' Insurance Claims and Payout for Lightning Losses
in the U.S., 2004-2009

 2004 2005 2006 2007

Number of paid claims 278,000 265,700 256,000 177,100
Insured losses ($ millions) $735.5 $819.6 $882.20 $942.4
Average cost per claim $2,646 $3,084 $3,446 $5,321

 Percent change,
 2008 2009 2004-2008

Number of paid claims 246,200 185,789 -33.2%
Insured losses ($ millions) $1,065.5 $798.2 8.5%
Average cost per claim $4,329 $4,296 62.4%

Source: Insurance Information Institute.

Lightning Incidents by Month, 2002-2005 (1)

Jan. 0.5%
Feb. 0.8%
Mar. 2.6%
Apr. 4.9%
May 11.8%
Jun. 17.7%
Jul. 26.4%
Aug. 24.0%
Sep. 6.5%
Oct. 2.5%
Nov. 1.5%
Dec. 0.7%

(1) Reported to local fire departments

Source: National Fire Protection Association.

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Title Annotation:THEY SAY, HEARSAY, AND WE SAY
Author:McChristian, Lynne
Publication:Florida Underwriter
Date:Apr 1, 2010
Words:954
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