Exploding Phone Lines

Lightning Blown Box

Mother Nature had a temper tantrum. She blew up our phone line which runs about half a mile from our house down the mountain to the nearest POTS pedestal. Both the box at the pedestal and the pictured junction above were blasted. The above literally ripped apart by the blast. The wires were melted at both ends and thrown out of the units. We may have actually seen it out of our peripheral vision. Fortunately we were not hurt.

During that storm there were at least nine near hits to our house – probably more. It was quite the show. Our neighbor said one strike went right down his chimney. We lost the pair of wires we were using in the 12 pair underground cable I had pulled over 25 years ago. Luckily I, still, have spare lines in that cable.

To deal with the lightning we have massive amounts of surge suppression on our power lines and lightning arresters but there is only so much you can do about Thor and Mother Nature. They’re delivering mega-blasts of energy from the heavens. In this storm we lost one pair of phone wires half a mile long, three fence energizers, six light bulbs and at least two electrical outlets.

This is not normal – in fact it’s been years since it was that bad. This is a result of multiple near direct hits. I don’t see any actual scorch marks on the building so I think it was just the Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) or stray side sparks to the main lightning bolts. Had it been direct hits I would expect more damage.

Usually the lightning hits further up the mountain so this was an unusual storm. Once I saw it hit repeatedly down below us in the marsh in the same spot, over and over. Very impressive and proof that lightning does indeed hit the same spot twice, thrice and more times.

What I really want is fiber optics for our phone line rather than the copper I installed 25 years ago. I don’t need the fiber for the speed but rather the immunity to EMP blasts that we get with lightning. The massive radio signal turns into a current in the wires resulting in a surge voltage that can burn things out – this is why you want lightning and surge protection for your home’s delicate electronics. We have had far worse hits than this in the past. One time it hit just outside our cottage. Exciting.

Our land lays across the northern end of the copper vein that served the Elizabeth mine down south. The copper in the land seems to suck in lightning blasts so we get quite the show. When the lightning strikes it sends out an intense radio pulse that gets picked up by fence lines, phone lines, electric power lines, rebar in buildings and even in water and whey lines. We live inside a Faraday cage by happenstance and sometimes see stray charges dance along the wires.

What we’re getting is not a direct strike although we had one of those once which melted thousands of feet of high tensile 12 gauge wire up in our sugar bush. That was orders of magnitude more intense. I got hit once by lightning but lived to tell the tale because I too was not directly hit – I just got the stray side cracklings. It was enough to short circuit my nervous system and throw me down. Once was enough for me – not an experience I wish to repeat so we stay away from the fence lines during storms.

Some years we get a lot of lightning storms and some years very few. The last two years were quiet years as measured by destruction with just a smattering of intense electrical storms and little damage (one fence energizer). This year has been a bad one in two storms. 1996 was really bad. In the late 1990’s after I vastly improved our old farm house’s wiring and ground plane much of that was solved which had been caused by a faulty ground in the original wiring. Looking back on it there is no particular pattern over the years, it is just a random thing. It’s not getting worse, just spikes here and there and then times of calm.

So we spent the morning fixing things. This happens somedays. Life is not always planned and when you do make plans, plan to change them. In the good news, while we were at it I took the time to use my multimeter to map the health of all 24 wires in our underground phone cable. The results were quite pleasing: we’ve only lost ten wires completely and we have seven good pairs remaining. Hopefully that will last me another 25 years until I can trench in fiber optic cable. Sooner if I have my way…

Outdoors: 79°F/62°F 3″ Rain, Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/62°F

Daily Spark: A government conspiracy assumes two nearly impossible things.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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6 Responses to Exploding Phone Lines

  1. am in the pm says:

    Ever had any animals lost to electrical storms ?

  2. Dawn Carroll says:

    I was installing New Zealand hot wire on a place in Central Oregon. A storm was brewing and a lighting bolt set down on a ridge about 1/2 mile away that caught my eye. Not thinking whether or not that bolt of electricity would heat up the wire momentarily I reached for the wire to clip on a nicopress sleeve and promptly got shocked.
    That ended my fencing endeavors for the day.

  3. Pam R says:

    We routinely unplug all important electronic stuff when storms come through. But phone lines, etc are just sitting ducks. Our closest strike was a spruce tree behind the wood shed, about 20′ from the house. Exploded it. Fortunately, nothing else was damaged. I love watching lightning storms, but it sounds like yours are pretty intense!

  4. Farmerbob1 says:

    Walter, have you considered some sort of thunder sensor system to open circuits?

    I know there are gunshot detectors. I don’t know if anyone’s ever thought about a thunder detector.

    Usually, before there’s a big lightning strike around here, there are lots of nearby ones. If you have a sensor that will open circuits for five minutes when a thunder sound is detected, it might save you some equipment and labor.

    Again, I have no idea if such a thing is remotely feasible, but if it is, and it makes sense, I figure you can figure out a better way to implement it than me!

    Taking the idea to a electric fence vendor and offering them your fences to test might be useful – though bio-contamination issues would need to be concerned if you have those dirty engineers playing around on the fences near your pigs :)

    • Yes, I designed one which worked on detecting the more distant EMPs that proceed the storm as it comes in toward us. But there are complications. Detecting the EMP works better than detecting the sound. It requires opening fairly large knife switches, a lot of them and even that leaves some systems vulnerable such as fence wires, phone wires, etc. This isn’t just a matter of equipment such as the energizers going but the actual wires are being destroyed. We have many, many miles of wire. The wires pickup the charge even if connected to nothing. They’re antennas.

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