Lightning Rod Improvement Studies

C. B. Moore Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico

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William Rison Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico

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James Mathis Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico

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Graydon Aulich Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico

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Abstract

Although lightning rods have long been used to limit damage from lightning, there are currently no American standards for the shape and form of these devices. Following tradition, however, sharp-tipped Franklin rods are widely installed despite evidence that, on occasion, lightning strikes objects in their vicinity. In recent tests of various tip configurations to determine which were preferentially struck by lightning, several hemispherically tipped, blunt rods were struck but none of the nearby, sharper rods were “hit” by lightning.

Measurements of the currents from the tips of lightning rods exposed to strong electric fields under negatively charged cloud bases show that the emissions consist of periodic ion charge bursts that act to reduce the strength of the local fields. After a burst of charge, no further emissions occur until that charge has moved away from the tip. Laboratory measurements of the emissions from a wide range of electrodes exposed to strong, normal-polarity thunderstorm electric fields show that positive ions are formed and move more readily over sharp-tipped electrodes than over blunter ones. From these findings, it appears that the electric field rates of intensification over sharp rods must be much greater than those over similarly exposed blunt rods for the initiation of upward-going leaders.

Calculations of the relative strengths of the electric fields above similarly exposed sharp and blunt rods show that although the fields, prior to any emissions, are much stronger at the tip of a sharp rod, they decrease more rapidly with distance. As a result, at a few centimeters above the tip of a 20-mm-diameter blunt rod, the strength of the field is greater than that over an otherwise similar, sharper rod at the same height. Since the field strength at the tip of a sharpened rod tends to be limited by the easy formation of ions in the surrounding air, the field strengths over blunt rods can be much stronger than those at distances greater than 1 cm over sharper ones.

The results of this study suggest that moderately blunt metal rods (with tip height–to–tip radius of curvature ratios of about 680:1) are better lightning strike receptors than are sharper rods or very blunt ones.

Corresponding author address: C. B. Moore, Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, NM 87801.

moore@nmt.edu

Abstract

Although lightning rods have long been used to limit damage from lightning, there are currently no American standards for the shape and form of these devices. Following tradition, however, sharp-tipped Franklin rods are widely installed despite evidence that, on occasion, lightning strikes objects in their vicinity. In recent tests of various tip configurations to determine which were preferentially struck by lightning, several hemispherically tipped, blunt rods were struck but none of the nearby, sharper rods were “hit” by lightning.

Measurements of the currents from the tips of lightning rods exposed to strong electric fields under negatively charged cloud bases show that the emissions consist of periodic ion charge bursts that act to reduce the strength of the local fields. After a burst of charge, no further emissions occur until that charge has moved away from the tip. Laboratory measurements of the emissions from a wide range of electrodes exposed to strong, normal-polarity thunderstorm electric fields show that positive ions are formed and move more readily over sharp-tipped electrodes than over blunter ones. From these findings, it appears that the electric field rates of intensification over sharp rods must be much greater than those over similarly exposed blunt rods for the initiation of upward-going leaders.

Calculations of the relative strengths of the electric fields above similarly exposed sharp and blunt rods show that although the fields, prior to any emissions, are much stronger at the tip of a sharp rod, they decrease more rapidly with distance. As a result, at a few centimeters above the tip of a 20-mm-diameter blunt rod, the strength of the field is greater than that over an otherwise similar, sharper rod at the same height. Since the field strength at the tip of a sharpened rod tends to be limited by the easy formation of ions in the surrounding air, the field strengths over blunt rods can be much stronger than those at distances greater than 1 cm over sharper ones.

The results of this study suggest that moderately blunt metal rods (with tip height–to–tip radius of curvature ratios of about 680:1) are better lightning strike receptors than are sharper rods or very blunt ones.

Corresponding author address: C. B. Moore, Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, NM 87801.

moore@nmt.edu

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