Why Do Tall Buildings Have Lightning Rods?

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Lightning rods are a common addition to tall buildings to protect them from lightning strikes, which could cause fire or explosion. The lightning rod does double duty by protecting the tall building it's attached to as well as the surrounding buildings.

Lightning

  • When charged particles in one location discharge electricity to oppositely charged particles in a different location, lightning occurs, delivering millions of volts to the ground. The lightning may be cloud to ground, within a cloud, or cloud to cloud. A lightning strike can cause fire and/or an explosion.

Probability of Lightning Strikes

  • A structure's size and height is one of four factors that affect the probability of a lightning strike. A tall structure has a greater probability of receiving a lightning strike. Other factors include topography, relative location in relation to other structures, and the frequency and severity of thunderstorms in the area.

Lightning Rod Function

  • A lightning rod is a conductor installed on a building to divert lighting away from the structure by providing a direct path to the ground. Since taller buildings are more likely to receive a lightning strike, taller buildings usually have a lightning rod installed on them.

History

  • Benjamin Franklin came up with the idea of a lightning rod in 1750. Originally implemented on the Christ Church, Franklin's famous key-and-kite experiment occurred because he was frustrated at how slow construction moved. Rather than wait to install the rod and see if it worked, he conducted the kite experiment where he attached a metal key to a kite, then attached the kite string to a silk ribbon for a hand grip. The flying key was struck by lightning.

Famous Buildings

  • Many famous buildings have lightning rods, including the White House, the Sears Tower, the Washington Monument and the Empire State Building.

References

  • Photo Credit a photo of a lightning image by Olga Rumiantseva from Fotolia.com
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