As dark clouds filled the sky on the afternoon of March 29, Kanglung turned cold and gray. Lightening and thunder raged with fury and it rained.

No sooner did the first few drops of rain hit the ceiling of DANTAK canteen than a worker dashed towards the television set. He unplugged the power socket and disconnected the cable connection without turning off the television.

According to the canteen staff, this was done in the fear of losing another television set to lightning strike.

One of the residents, Karma Dorji, said that first reflexive action wherever there are signs of impending thunder and lightning is to turn off all the electrical appliances at this place. “We ensure all the sockets are unplugged to save the electric appliances.”

People in Kanglung and Yonphula have lost electrical appliances worth thousands to lightning strikes.

Bhutan Telecom officials in Kanglung said that because lightning charges are highly unconventional and unpredictable currents, there is no one-way solution to avoid the damages.

An official explained that one of the basic and most common solutions is to install a proper earthing system at homes and offices. “However, the earthing system does not guarantee 100 percent security from lightning strikes.”

He said that protecting systems such as lightning arresters, lightning protection instruments such as Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor (TVSS) and Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR) should be installed especially in offices that would help filter the current from lightning strikes.

“If the weather signals rainfall, people should immediately disconnect all electrical connections including the television cable, telephone lines and electric lines,” said the official.

However, it was learned that lightning strikes were not only restricted during rainy weather. “Even during a bright sunny day we have experienced lightning strikes with thunder,” a resident said. “There is nothing we can do in such situations.”

Meanwhile, the March 29 lightning damaged equipment including printers, fax machines, laptops and other electrical appliances at the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) and Kuensel Corporation offices in Kanglung.

BPC sub-station in-charge in Kanglung, Mahendra, said that damage to electrical appliances due to lightning is common in the area since most of the households didn’t have a proper earthing system. “Here at our sub-station, we have lightning arrestors put in place. However, the lightning strikes mostly occur midway along the transmission lines.”

He said that having a proper earthing system at individual house and disconnecting the appliances during rainy days would help minimise the damage caused. “When the lightning strikes midway and is transmitted through the distribution cables, there is nothing much we can do to avoid it.”

Meanwhile, residents and officials shared that the weather got worse during summer and without a full proof solution it was inconvenient to function their daily chores that involve the use of machines and electrical appliances.

On the same day at around 1:50pm, Yonphula airport was also struck by lightning causing damage at the airport apron (the area where aircraft is parked).

However, airport officials said that no major damage was caused and the incident wouldn’t affect flight operations.

A Yonphula resident, Tashi Tshewang, said a similar lightning occurred some 10 years ago when numerous trees were burned to ashes. “It was as if the sky cracked open. Luckily, there was no one at the airport when the lightning struck.”

Younten Tshedup | Kanglung