Knowing Fact from Fiction can Save Lives and Prevent Lightning Injuries.
June 18, 2012
Lightning is an underrated killer. Knowing fact from fiction can save lives and prevent lightning injuries. Here are some common myths about lightning and the actual facts.
Myth #1: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it’s a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building was once used as a lightning laboratory, since it is hit nearly 25 times per year. (Recent video footage in April of 2011 recorded lightning striking the Empire State Building several times in a matter of just a few minutes.)
Myth #2: Lightning rods don’t really work.
Fact: When installed with national safety standards, lightning protection systems will properly protect a building to withstand a multitude of lightning strikes. This is why major buildings like the Sears Tower or the Empire State sustain dozens of strikes a year and are still standing!
Myth #3: If it’s not raining, or if clouds aren’t overhead, you’re safe from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or even thunderstorm cloud. “Bolts from the Blue,” though infrequent, can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.
Myth #4: Rubber tires protect you from lightning in a car by insulating you from the ground.
Fact: Most cars are reasonably safe from lightning, but it’s the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, not the rubber tires. Thus convertibles, motorcycles, bikes, open shelled outdoor recreation vehicles, and cars with plastic or fiberglass shells offer no lightning protection.
Myth #5: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.
Fact: The human body doesn’t store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.
Myth #6: If outside in a thunderstorm, go under a tree to stay dry.
Fact: Being underneath trees is the second leading activity for lightning casualties.
Myth #7: A house will keep you safe from lightning.
Fact: While a house is a good place for lightning safety, just going inside isn’t enough. You must avoid any conducting path leading outside, such as corded telephones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, plumbing, metal doors or window frames, etc. Don’t stand near a window to watch the lightning. An inside room is generally safe, but a home equipped with a professionally-installed lightning protection system is the safest shelter available.
Myth #8: Wearing metal on your body (jewelry, watches, glasses, backpacks, etc.), attracts lightning.
Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes virtually no difference where the lightning strikes. While metal doesn’t attract lightning, touching or being near long metal objects (fences, railings, bleachers, vehicles, etc.) is still unsafe when thunderstorms are nearby. If lightning does happen to hit it, the metal can conduct the electricity a long distance and still electrocute you.
Myth #9: Lightning rods attract lightning.
Fact: Definitely not! A lightning protection system simply intercepts a lightning strike and provides a path to ground for discharging the dangerous electricity.
Myth #10 : Surge arresters and suppressors will protect my home against lightning.
Fact: Surge arresters and suppressors are important components of a complete lightning protection system, but can do nothing to protect a structure against a direct lightning strike. These items must be installed in conjunction with a lightning protection system (air terminals, bonding, grounding, etc.) to provide whole house protection.
Myth #11: Lightning protection is way too expensive for the average homeowner.
Fact: Lightning protection is often one of the least expensive home improvements you can purchase and offers peace of mind and proven protection for your family, home and valuables. If you live in a lightning-prone area, it provides a big return on a small investment.
Myth #12: T.V. antennas and satellite dishes protect structures from lightning.
Fact: No! As antennas are not adequately grounded to safely handle the powerful lightning current, the can actually provide an easy entry for lightning’s harmful current.
Myth #13 : All modern buildings are “grounded” and don’t need lightning protection, right?
Fact: No! This refers to the electrical service being grounded for general electricity. The electrical service is not adequate to handle a lightning strike which can pack up to 30 million volts of power.
Myth #14: I don’t need lightning rods because only tall buildings get hit and my neighbors’ houses are much taller.
Fact: Lower roof levels and structures are often lightning targets, as lightning is just seeking that lowest resistance path to ground. Scientists say that lightning doesn’t pick its strike termination target until within 150 ft. of the striking point.
Myth #15: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, lay flat on the ground.
Fact: Lightning induces electric currents along the top of the ground that can be deadly over 100 feet away. While lying flat on the ground gets you as low as possible, it increases your chance of being hit by a ground current. Consult weather forecasts when planning outdoor activities and try to have a plan in place for safe shelter if a storm should approach. Remember, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”
- There are 1,800 thunderstorms in progress at any given time on Earth.
- Lightning has been known to strike 10 miles from the storm in an area of clear sky above.
- The longest bolt of lightning seen to date was 118 miles long. It was seen in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
- Lightning strikes 30 million points on the ground in a given year in the U.S.
- Lightning injures approximately 1,000 people each year.
- Half of all lightning fires and almost three-fifths of non-fire lightning strikes are reported in July and August.
- The deadliest U.S. fire started by lightning in recent years was the January 2006 West Virginia coal mine explosion that claimed 12 lives. The incident occurred approximately 2 miles from the mine entrance, when methane gas was ignited by a lightning strike that occurred a distance from the mine and followed a cable into the mine.