There are more than 300,000 telecom towers — and growing — at the core of the U.S. wireless infrastructure. Expanding, maintaining, and upgrading them is critical to keeping the industry working seamlessly. Understanding the implications of extreme weather on the towers is key to managing their structural and performance integrity, as well as keeping workers safe while supporting operations that ensure constant, available wireless signals.
One of the most visible weather hazards, particularly during an increase in storm frequency, are lightning strikes. Cloud-to-ground lightning occurs 20 to 25 million times every year in the United States, and the height of telecom towers makes them vulnerable, potentially endangering workers and equipment.
Crew safety in inclement weather
Tower work should be avoided when weather conditions increase safety risks — and lightning threatens tower climbers. Between 2006-2015, lightning accounted for 11% of fatalities at work. Mixing lightning with tall towers puts maintenance crews at significant risk, and they need sufficient time to take shelter.
Watching for lightning and listening thunder isn’t an option. By the time maintenance crews hear thunder, it is already too late. Their job is to safely and skillfully complete their tasks, which is much easier without the added distraction of watching the weather. Crews need timely, actionable alerts to ensure safety and eliminate guesswork.
Supervisors and workers can make themselves aware of the potential for lightning through weather reports and forecasts. Many companies provide customizable applications and programs that offer up-to-the-minute information on weather hazards, including lightning. This allows supervisors to make critical safety decisions. It is important to note that lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from precipitation. This is why workers should remain in a shelter or vehicle for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.
Telecom tower operators have the duty to protect their employees from danger. Commercial weather intelligence is simple to implement and cost-effective — providing additional benefits beyond safety. This can include technology to identify towers for inspection that may have been affected by lightning or severe weather.
Lightning is also a real threat to the reliable operation of the telecom tower itself. A single direct strike could physically damage it and cause its electronic components to fail. Lightning is the number one natural cause of system failures and could result in a tower being out of service, and ultimately, revenue losses as well.
Direct lightning strikes — and the related electrical surges — are virtually unavoidable for telecom towers with their height and electrical components. When lightning strikes, the current flows through the tower to the ground and can damage electronic equipment like radios, antennas, dishes, etc., mounted on it. But, with proper planning and preparation, operators can minimize damage and outages, along with any long-term effects.
With weather playing a major role in tower performance and integrity, it’s important to make sure you have accurate, timely weather data to help drive decisions. By incorporating weather data into your decision-making process, you can better assess your assets and plan for repairs and maintenance — before disaster strikes.
Read our whitepaper to learn more ways you can improve business decisions by using weather data.