Commentary: When lightning strikes, try this

August 10, 2011 

Florida is sometimes described as the lightning capital of the United States. Florida has the highest lightning strike density of anywhere in the U.S., about 10 strikes for every square kilometer per year, according to the American Meteorological Society Website.

This is an ominous statistics for computers in Florida because computers and lightning are not friends. Nothing can stop a lightning bolt, and surges from resulting power outages can easily damage electronics in your home.

So your computer is not functioning normally after a storm or power outage. There are a few things to consider.

If the computer is powering on, but not connecting to the Internet, your modem or router may need to be reset. You may have one or two devices located where your cable/Fios line enters your home. Turn off these boxes, wait 10 minutes, then turn on the device closest to the wall first, then turn on the second device. This forces your router to reestablish a connection with the service provider.

If the computer will not power on at all, the power supply or adapter may be affected. Power supplies can be quickly tested at no cost at a good computer service shop. It is recommended that you talk to your trusted computer adviser about a proper replacement power supply. Desktop power supplies come in varying wattages and form factors, though form factor is fairly standard. Replacement of a power supply for a desktop is feasible but requires service. Surges also can affect network cards and modems. Your computer professional can assist you in diagnosing and replacing those components.

Laptops require an exact match of the connector and voltage. Amperage may be greater, but cannot be less. Use of the wrong power adapter may power the laptop, but can cause damage over time. Replacement adapters can be ordered from your laptop’s manufacturer or through authorized computer stores. There also are very good universal A/C adapters available. Again, consult your computer professional for a proper fit.

A charged battery may delay your discovery of a laptop’s blown power adapter. If you are able to use your laptop immediately after a storm, but have no power at a later time, have your power adapter checked.

A more severe effect for either a PC or laptop is a blown motherboard. The motherboard is a computer’s main component, providing circuitry and connections for all functions of the system. Unless a computer is new, or designed for a specific purpose, it is usually not cost effective to replace the motherboard. The good news is that unless the system smoked and burned, your data should still be intact.

If you are willing to void your desktop computer’s warranty, take a look inside the system. To a trained eye, a blown motherboard may show damage to the circuitry or to the capacitors. The capacitors are small cylindrical “towers” with an X on top. If the tops are flat, they are good. A blown capacitor will pop the top, like a baby food lid. Bad motherboards do not always show damage, and diagnosis may require the testing of all the other components of the system.

So how can you protect your electronics from nature’s fury? When powerful storms threaten, use a surge protector to regulate the power level when power is interrupted. If lightning is close by, unplug your electronics to avoid damage from a direct hit. Surge protectors provide some protection, but they cannot block the effect of a bolt that strikes nearby.

So while we dodge the summer storms and when lightning strikes, use care protecting those home electronics. Your computer, and wallet, will thank you.

Michael Shaffer, of Computer Renaissance of Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277 or at

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