Why turn phones off in a storm?

Written By komlim puldel on Selasa, 16 September 2014 | 20.01

THE Bureau of Meteorology has issued all kinds of apocalyptic thunderstorm warnings for much of south eastern Australia this afternoon and evening.

Most of the storms appear to be dissipating for now, but spring is thunderstorm season, so we thought we'd go through the Bureau's point-by-point advice for dealing with such storms. The list basically goes like this:

The State Emergency Service advises that people should:

* Move your car under cover or away from trees.

* Secure or put away loose items around your house, yard and balcony.

* Keep clear of fallen power lines.

* Unplug computers and appliances.

* Avoid using the phone during the storm.

* Stay indoors away from windows, and keep children and pets indoors as well.

That all makes plenty of sense to us except for the second last one. Avoid using the phone? Why avoid using the phone???

Probably best not to ring your long-winded friend right at this moment. Pic: Rhys Clarke. Source: Supplied

We rang the Bureau and they couldn't tell us. They're experts in weather apparently — not what to do when said weather actually strikes.

Noting that the advice in the warnings was issued by the State Emergency Service, we contacted them. This really friendly guy called Jesse answered the phone and informed us that he'd have to contact his communications team, as that was protocol.

We missed that call, so instead we contacted an electrician. The first electrician that popped up on Google was a company called Mr Sparky. They sounded like a bunch of livewires so we called them. Steven answered the phone. He's an electrician, and a very helpful one too.

"During thunderstorms, lighting is most likely to occur and that lightning can hit the ground. Telephone lines are underground and made of copper and they connect to your wall socket," Steven helpfully explained.

"Cordless phones and mobile phones obviously won't be affected, but anything conencted to the wall socket could potentially get 50 thousand volts."

Yikes. And that could kill?

"That could kill you. The probability is very low but it's something to be aware of. The chances if it happening are very minimal but if lightning strikes just outside your house there's hardly any protection. If it strikes down the street or outside your office, the potential danger is much less."

Steven says people should still make emergency calls during storms if they are in a life-thretaening situation. But otherwise, on balance, we should all stay off the landline during severe electrical storms.

It's also worth remembering that lightning doesn't always strike at the epicentre of storms. It can strike around the fringes, hence the phrase "bolt from the blue".

So there you have it. If there's a storm happening anywhere near you, try and do your calling from your mobile, OK?


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