Hurricane Harvey Spawns Lightning Storms in its Path

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with “non-stop lightning” in the words of the Washington Post. The lightning added to the storm damage caused by winds and floods by sparking fires and destroying critical equipment and services.

This experience reminds us that lightning damage accompanies many hurricanes. In addition to fires and damage to structures, the lightning creates power surges that knock-out power, communication, and emergency response systems at the time they are most needed. A news report reminds us that, “lightning made things particularly difficult for those responding to the storm.”

Even structures above flood level are vulnerable, making post-hurricane recovery more difficult. One family reports they, “haven’t been able to leave the house for five days…. We were lucky enough that around our area nothing flooded but all the rain coming down, all the lightning…”

Lightning strikes compound the environmental consequences of the hurricane. A major refinery “shut down after being struck by lightning during Harvey, according to its regulatory filing. It released toxins including benzene, hexane, and toluene far in excess of its permits.” At another location, adjacent to a “sensitive wildlife refuge“, lightning struck an oil storage tank and sparked fires and chemical spills.

To protect lives and property and improve the resilience of communities, properly designed and installed lightning protection systems should be considered for every building in regions prone to hurricanes and other natural disasters.

In animated satellite image, lightning is shown by yellow and red pixels.

Video shows three minutes of almost continuous lightning over Houston skyline.