Lightning strikes can cause significant damage to any building, even causing it to catch fire. This can be more dangerous if the blaze starts in the attic or within the walls, as it may not be apparent straight away – until the fire has really taken hold.
Other potential risks can include power surge damage if the lightning chooses electrical wiring as a primary or secondary path, with the surge significantly damaging any connected appliances. Shock wave damage can shatter glass and crack concrete, stone and brick.
Famous lightning strikes
Some of the UK’s most famous buildings and landmarks have been struck by lightning:
In May 2014, the tallest building in Europe was struck by lightning several times during a storm. Eye-witnesses described seeing the 87-storey Shard – a 306-metre high skyscraper in London – as looking like “something from a disaster movie”. However, the building survived thanks to its lightning conductors that saved it from any damage.
Lightning struck London’s famous Tower Bridge on the River Thames in January 2014. Amateur photographer, Daoud Fakhri, had gone out in the storm to test a new camera when by chance he captured the amazing sight of a flurry of lightning bolts hitting the national landmark.
Narrow miss for aircraft
On the same day, a lightning bolt hit the runway at Wolverhampton’s Halfpenny Green Airport. Control tower worker, Paul Bunch, captured a photo of the lightning strike which amazingly just missed a plane. Ironically, the aircraft was being taxied along the runway to a safer place due to the threat of lightning!
In July 1996, lightning struck Buckingham Palace during a garden party. Injuring two women who were guests at the event, they were standing just 50 yards from HRH the Queen! They were knocked unconscious by the bolt of lightning.
The victims suffered minor burns to their bodies and were kept in hospital overnight, where they were also treated for shock. A spokesperson for the Red Cross ambulance service said that to his knowledge, it was the first time that lightning had ever struck at the palace.
Tower of terror
In July 2016, lightning struck the famous landmark, Blackpool Tower. On the north-west coast of Lancashire, spectacular thunderstorms followed the hottest day of the year, when temperatures hit 30°C. Nobody was injured when the 150-metre structure was hit.
It wasn’t the first time the historic landmark had been struck by lightning. In the 1950s, a bolt of lightning scored a direct hit at the top of the 1891 metal structure.
In July 2014, ferocious thunderstorms saw lightning strike Birmingham’s 152-metre BT Tower, while in July 2009, a bolt hit Beetham Tower in Manchester, striking the roof of the 47-storey, 169-metre skyscraper on Deansgate. The lower 23 floors are occupied by the Hilton Hotel. No damage to the building was reported.
The amazing factor linking the lightning strikes, none of the structures were damaged. The benefits of lightning protection systems used on thousands of buildings, including homes and commercial properties, mean that the lightning current is carried harmlessly from the rods to the ground, providing a safe path for the lightning discharge.