When Surge, Spike And UPS Protection Aren’t Enough…

The Tampa Bay Area of Florida (where PCMech is based and where I reside) is recognized as "Lightning Capital Of North America", because we get more cloud-to-ground bolts than anywhere else on this continent. What I’m about to tell you is an extreme example of the situation that even if you have all the electrical protection you can get, it’s sometimes still not enough.

It’s a sound idea to surge/spike protect anything that plugs into the wall you consider valuable that’s powered. With PCs and cablemodems you can further your protection from blackout and brownout by using an uninterruptable power supply, commonly known by its abbreviation UPS.

Last Thursday a rather nasty storm cell floated right over where I live. Then a super-white flash happened immediately followed by a super-loud CRACK, which I heard not only outside but inside my dwelling. Did that scare the living hell out of me? You bet it did.

That bolt knocked out my cablemodem and wireless router. Were they surge/spike protected? Yes. Were they plugged into a UPS? Yes. So what killed them? My best guess is that that there was power ‘thrown’ through the network cable, because in addition to knocking out my cablemodem and router, it also killed the network card on my PC and rendered the network cable that connected it useless; that’s more or less confirmation that yes, the network cable did get a jolt thrown through it somehow.

Lightning does some seriously weird stuff. It’s almost completely unpredictable, and even if you think you have all your bases covered with surge/spike/blackout/brownout protection, well, you may not be. I found that out the hard way.

The cable company did replace my cablemodem free of charge as modems getting zapped out of commission by lightning is a common thing in Tampa Bay. All it took was a quick drive over to the closet office, present my busted modem, ID myself, and they gave me a new one. As for my network card, another one needed to be bought, but they’re cheap so it wasn’t a big deal.

Is there such a thing as network surge protection?

Yes, of course there is, such as this network surge suppressor. But will it protect from a lightning strike? I doubt it.

The best thing to do when a storm cell is coming is simple – unplug everything, including the network cable. Yes, it’s annoying and yes, it will probably require you to get on the floor to do it, but in the end it will save you from having to pay for new stuff that lightning damage busted.

I did say that my experience was an extreme example. To put this in perspective, the bolt I mentioned above also managed to knock out the traffic light controller at a major intersection a few streets away for about 4 hours. I say ‘controller’ because the lights still blinked, but that’s all they did until the controller was repaired and the normal light pattern from the program resumed.

Have you ever had computer equipment knocked out by Mother Nature?

If you’ve been using computers long enough, you’ve probably had at least a few experiences where the weather killed something electrical you had.

Share your story below – even if it was from something other than lightning, such as from flood, wind, ice, snow, hail, temperatures too hot or too cold, and so on.


  1. I found out the hard way that the phone line at my mother’s wasn’t well grounded.  Years ago, my 14.4k modem was fried by lightening.  I didn’t know it was lightening at the time, and wasn’t too sad, as I eagerly upgraded to a 56k.  Big money at the time.  A couple of days later, another thunderstorm, another fried modem.  I returned the modem as defective, and from that point forward kept it unplugged from the phone line unless in use.

  2. I live in St. Petersburg and about a month ago, my next door neighbor called to say the computer I built for her wouldn’t turn on. About 6:00 Am that morning I heard a loud clap of thunder and figured that lightning got her. Sure enough, took out the Bright House Modem, PSU ands network card. She called Florida Progress as she has the lightning protection plan, only top learn that they only cover major appliabces (fridge, washer, dryer, etc.).

    • Brighthouse should have replaced the cablemodem free of charge. They did for me (I use the same ISP). As for the PC, you’re correct, Progress will not cover anything that isn’t considered a major appliance – which by the way does not include microwaves, blenders, toasters and other like items because those are not considered ‘major’.

  3. Lightning struck a transformer outside my apartment and took out my modem and my network cable but for some reason not my cable line

  4. Sheila Kimmel says:

    We’ve had an unusual amount of lightning in our northern Ontario provincial parks. We do buy lightning protection with UPS, when we put in telephony servers, but the out buildings give us trouble. We are now doubling solid state protection together with gas to protect our telephony switches. Sometimes, we just let the out buildings fry.

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