What To Know
- Wi-Fi signals do not attract lightning.
- While lightning can disrupt Wi-Fi signals due to electromagnetic interference, lightning itself doesn’t deliver current through radio waves to harm humans or devices.
In this article, we will examine the science behind lightning strikes and explore whether they can attract and affect Wi-Fi networks.
Do WiFi Signals Attract Lightning?
Lightning is a naturally occurring phenomenon caused by the buildup and discharge of electrical energy in the atmosphere.
Contrary to popular opinion, metals and other conductive materials do not “attract” lighting. Lightning can strike just about anything! The three factors that increase the chances of a lightning strike are:
- Pointed ends
The myth that WiFi signals attract lightning stems from a misunderstanding of the science behind both lightning and WiFi signals.
When lightning strikes, the electric current creates an electromagnetic field that can induce electric currents to nearby conductive materials. Power lines, electrical wires, metal doors, and other conductors will deliver these massive amounts of current to devices—and even humans—connected to them.
On the other hand, Wi-Fi signals operate on radio frequencies and radio waves are not conductive. In fact, electromagnetic waves and conductive materials interfere with radio waves by reflecting or absorbing them.
So, if a lightning strike is close to a WiFi transmission, the induced electric currents can interfere with the radio waves. This interference causes temporary disruptions to the WiFi signal.
However, while lightning can temporarily disrupt WiFi signals, it cannot deliver current through radio waves and cause harm to humans or WiFi devices.
NOTE: When lightning strikes an electrical conductor, the current flow can damage devices or cause harm to any person in direct contact.
If you must use Wi-Fi during a thunderstorm, use battery-operated routers and MiFi. Avoid electrical connections that can expose your WiFi router to current surges.
Should You Unplug Router During Thunderstorms?
Generally, we recommend that you unplug your devices from the wall outlet during a power outage. This is because the sudden current surge when power is restored can damage connected devices.
The same applies during thunderstorms.
Lightning strikes are a major cause of power surges in electrical systems. When lightning strikes a power line or any electrical equipment, it creates an electrical surge that travels through the electrical system and damages connected devices.
Your house or building contains several conductive materials that cross paths with your router—directly or indirectly. These materials include electrical wiring, copper phone lines, coax cables, and metal plumbing pipes.
If a lightning strike gets close enough to your home to affect conductive materials, there’s a pretty high chance that the power surge will affect your router.
If you can’t unplug the router, turn off its power supply. You can also use a surge protector or power conditioner to reduce the risk of damage.
Surge protection devices protect electrical equipment from sudden power surges by putting a cap on the voltage supply. They block and reroute any excess voltage above the standard output range.
However, while surge protectors are effective, they do not have a 100% guarantee. Particularly high bursts of current can burn a surge protector—especially if it’s well-used.
The most reliable preventive measure is to unplug your router from the power supply. If you must use a surge protection device, choose a high-quality one that protects sensitive devices.
Do Phones Attract Lightning?
If the phones in question are landlines, then there’s reason to be concerned. Landlines (corded phones) are at risk of lightning strikes because they are connected directly to cell towers.
Current always aim for the shortest path to its destination (the ground). Hence, lightning is attracted to taller objects such as trees, buildings, lightning rods, and towers—because they provide a path of least resistance for the lightning to follow.
So, if you own a corded phone, be careful. Lightning can strike cell towers or telephone lines and the current will travel to the phone cradled in your palm.
Cell (mobile) phones, on the other hand, are neither grounded, pointy, nor tall. They do not stand out in any way, so they do not attract lightning.
The idea that mobile phones have metal components which attract lightning is a common misconception. Lightning doesn’t target metal specifically, it just follows the easiest path to the ground.
Also, cell phone communications rely on non-conductive RF (radio frequency) waves from cellular towers. They do not use telephone lines which can conduct current when lightning strikes them.
You’ll hear of people getting struck by lightning while making calls or just holding their mobile phones during a thunderstorm. However, these incidents have nothing to do with their phones and everything to do with being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Note: Even if lightning did target metal, the amount of metal in a phone is too small to significantly increase the risk of a lightning strike.
A direct lightning strike can cause significant harm to your Wi-Fi devices and network.
When lightning strikes, the current’s electromagnetic waves can interfere with any radio waves in the area including TV and WiFi signals. This interference will disrupt your signal strength and network connection.
Lightning strikes only affect routers if you plug them into a power outlet. A surge of current may travel along power lines to individual buildings and burn any device connected to power outlets.
To protect against lightning damage, we advise that you disconnect from power outlets during a thunderstorm. You may also use a surge protector as a first line of defense instead.
Gabriella ‘Diogo is a technical writer with a vested interest in tech hardware and equipment. She shares her knowledge and processes in an easy-to-grasp, lighthearted style. When she’s not testing or researching device performance, you’ll find her writing short stories or rewatching episodes of her favorite sitcoms.