This is an interesting question as large parts of the world do suffer heavy storms at certain times of the year, with lots of thunder and lightning. Therefore many internet users want to know about safety when using Wi-Fi and the internet in general during electric storms. Is it safe to do so, and do internet signals attract lightning in any way?
The answer to this question revolves around just what internet signals are, and how they get from the wider internet to our devices.
Here is a general answer:
Wi-Fi and cellphone internet signals do not attract lightning, since they are not technically solid objects, but waveform frequencies in the EMF spectrum. The cellphone towers over which mobile internet data is sent can sometimes attract lightning, but there is no danger to humans in using Wi-Fi during storms.
In other words, the signals themselves are not attractors or conductors of lightning, but some of the equipment over which the signals may be sent can be either struck by lightning (cell masts) or damaged by the indirect effect of lighting strikes (wireless routers).
The chances of humans ever being injured by either of these two things is minuscule, so there is next to no risk using the internet indoors in a storm, provided some common sense precautions regarding electrical equipment are followed.
Wi-Fi and Cellphone Internet Signals Do Not Attract Lightning
Let’s answer this part of the question by differentiating the different ways in which we can receive internet data from the wider world to our devices.
Home internet – In the case of the standard broadband/fibre internet we get in our homes that’s broadcast over our Wi-Fi routers, this is actually piped to our homes through a large network of fiber optic cables that are largely underground. It’s sent between countries and continents by a similarly large network of underwater cables. Both these networks do not attract lightning and are not affected by lightning, except for when your internet lines are going through the old phone lines on telegraph poles instead of underground cables. Similarly, the Wi-Fi signals a router broadcasts in your home do not attract lightning, since they are RF waves that don’t even have a mass or solid constitution that is needed to attract or conduct lightning.
Mobile Internet – In this case your data is actually sent over cell tower masts, but again the signals are just RF waves like Wi-Fi, just on a slightly different subset of the overall EMF spectrum. Therefore they have the same general characteristics as Wi-Fi, just a different wavelength, so they aren’t affected lightning and they don’t attract it.
Bottom line – there’s no need to worry about using Wi-Fi or phone data when it is thundering and lightning, because these signals can’t attract lightning. Your biggest problem is the storm potentially taking out the power and therefore the internet with it.
To attract lightning, something usually has to be:
- Connected to the ground
- Sometimes (but not always) pointing a long way up into the sky, since lightning seeks the path of least resistance to get to the ground. This stereotype is a little overblown though according to some experts.
See here for more theory on this.
RF waves don’t fit any of these criteria, but some internet equipment does, which is what we’ll turn to now.
Wi-Fi signals are massless waves and cannot attract lightning or conduct electricity
Internet Equipment & Safety During Lightning Storms
There are some very, very rare accounts online of people being injured during storms not by the Wi-Fi signals themselves, but by lightning striking nearby infrastructure like telegraph poles, and actually coming through into the home, frazzling the router and sending a shock through the equipment they were using.
These are very isolated accounts though, and the odds of it happening to anyone are minuscule.
However, here are some best practices when using the internet during a heavy storm:
- You are probably best using Wi-Fi instead of wired connections just during the storm, since Wi-Fi is totally safe and cannot conduct anything as opposed to copping wiring.
- Stay away from routers or other electrical equipment that’s wired up with copper cabling. If lighting strikes nearby power lines, then electrical equipment may on very rare occasion get damaged by the shock, and send a shock to anything or anyone nearby. You’d have to be very close to the router to be affected by this though.
- Use any surge protectors as appropriate to prevent shocks. Click here to view the popular KMC surge protector on Amazon.
- Backup and save data as appropriate before storms in case of equipment damage.
- Use phones and laptops off battery instead of plugged in if desired to reduce risk of surges and damage.
- Extra cautious users will unplug all electrical equipment just to be sure. This is a personal choice, more to save money in case equipment gets damaged.
Surge protectors can stop equipment getting damaged in storms
This is just general advice anyway for weathering storms anyway though, and there’s nothing special about internet equipment here. It’s just advisable to take sensible precautions as most people normally would during heavy storms where there’s lots of lightning.
As the saying goes, the odds of being struck by lightning are very rare. The odds of being indirectly injured by lightning in your own home are ever rarer, so it’s probably best not to sweat about it.
Cell Towers Can Attract Lightning
There is another instance in which an internet signal transmitter of sorts can attract lightning – in the case of cell phone towers which do transmit the internet data sent over mobile networks (as opposed to home Wi-Fi networks).
These towers can be very tall and will on occasion attract lighting strikes because they are pointing so far up in the air. Lightning will seek the path of least resistance to get the ground and discharge itself.
However, cell phone companies are wise to the likelihood of strikes, and most towers are installed with protective equipment to neutralize the effect of these strikes. In rare cases, when no protection is installed, then they may be taken offline, in which case internet coverage may be indirectly affected for mobile devices that would normally rely on that tower, but again we are talking about very rare cases here.
Cell towers can be hit by lightning but usually have protective equipment installed
Satellite Internet Dishes & Lightning
There’s another very rare case when not the signal itself but the equipment receiving the signal may be vulnerable to lightning strikes – that of internet dishes installed on some houses, mostly for satellite TV, but also sometimes for satellite internet in areas where standard internet isn’t available.
This could present a safety risk, since the dishes themselves are solid, grounded and have metallic bits on them that can conduct electricity.
However, when properly installed by a reputable company and a qualified electrician, satellite dishes are meant to be earthed as per the regulations in most countries, meaning the risk of shocks and damage is greatly reduced. If your dish has been installed more informally (cash in hand), or by a not so reputable company, it may not be properly earthed.
If you think there’s any risk involved here, then it’s wise to follow the same kind of precautions mentioned above – unplug electrical equipment to prevent shocks and damage to equipment, and/or use equipment off batteries where possible, or use surge protectors. In this case it is also wise to contact a local satellite engineer and/or electrician to ask about earthing, as the risk is much closer to home in these cases.