The Rockwood Files: Shock to the system

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It was a dark and stormy October night. Tom was out of town on business and the kids and I were home watching television. Suddenly we heard a loud crack while a bright white light flashed out from behind the flat screen television mounted on the living room wall.

The television and half the lights in the house instantly went dark as the home security system started a high-pitched beeping. I jumped off the sofa, feeling my heart pound in my chest. Once I’d determined the kids weren’t hurt, I walked toward the window and stopped a few feet away, remembering that standing by the window during a lightning storm isn’t a great idea.

Assuming the storm had thrown a breaker, I went to the circuit box in the garage to check it out. As soon as I stepped out there, I walked into a wall of odor that smelled like burning rubber. That’s when I decided that perhaps a lightning bolt had hit too close to home.

I flipped the thrown breaker and went back in the house to check for signs of an electrical fire, but there was no smoke and no smell. I tried to turn the television back on to check the weather report, but the TV’s power light flickered and quickly faded to black. The kids raced around the house to see if other TVs would work, but they were totally unresponsive.

“What’s wrong with the TVs, Mom?” asked the 9-year-old.

“I think the house was struck by lightning,” I said. “And it might have fried the TVs.”

“So they’re broken? All of them?” she asked.

“Looks that way,” I confirmed.

Then the 14-year-old and his 12-year-old brother burst into the room with a breathless announcement. “This is bad, Mom. There’s no Wi-fi!”

Losing televisions is serious, but when kids lose Internet access, it’s like someone has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. The panic was palpable.

After I reassured the kids that they could, in fact, live without Wi-Fi for at least 24 hours, we checked the rest of the house for damage and waited until the acrid smell of burning rubber dissipated in the garage. One of my neighbors came over to help confirm there was likely no electrical fire smoldering within the walls.

The next morning, our electrician came to assess the damage. He took one whiff of the garage and confirmed that the lightning strike had caused the motors inside the garage door openers to burn and melt. The same thing happened with the computer router, modem, printer, the air conditioner thermostat, the security system, a sprinkler system, a refrigerator, four televisions, and a long list of other electronic devices plugged into the wall that night.

Almost all of them, by the way, were plugged into surge protectors. But according to our electrician and the insurance adjustor, that doesn’t help much when you’re dealing with the kind of surge supplied by a genuine lightning bolt that lands too close to your house. We think it may have hit a tree in the front yard because, the next morning, we found a dead squirrel at the base of the tree with a rather shocked expression on his furry face.

Tom flew home the next day and we spent the next two weeks calling repairmen, answering insurance questions and replacing the electrocuted appliances and electronics. After meeting a painful deductible, we’ve been able to replace everything lost in the storm – minus that one unfortunate squirrel.

But the whole experience has been a literal shock to the system and has left me feeling like the lightning strike short-circuited my brain, too. And you can’t find a new one of those on the shelf at Best Buy. Believe me, I checked.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.