Lies We Tell Ourselves About Lightning – Part 1
Lies We Tell Ourselves About Lightning
Separating the Legend from the Legit – Part 1
The Fiction: Lightning Tries to Hit Materials That Are Good Conductors, Like Water/Metal/etc.:
Lightning can strike anything in its’ path. Whether you are standing under a tree or next to a metal fence, you are probably equally vulnerable during a lightning strike. As a matter of fact, the number one victim of lightning strikes during outdoor leisure are fishermen – who are holding primarily plastic poles – as opposed to golfers – who are holding metal clubs. Lightning conducts better through good conductors, thereby causing less damage – but poorer conductors (such as the human body, or trees) will still get struck by lightning, just suffer worse damage from the current.
The Fiction: Lightning Will Only ‘Strike’ The Highest Object Around You
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identifies five different types of lightning strikes – only one of which actually hits the person directly (direct strike). The four other ways lightning can ‘strike’ a person are in a side flash or side splash, ground current from a nearby strike, conduction from touching something conducting a lightning strike, and a streamer strike – where the positive upwards flow of energy is discharged by nearby lightning strike. What does this mean for you? It means that running away from the tallest tree in the forest does not equal instant safety from a lightning strike. It also means you can get hit by lightning whether you are standing up, crouching down, or laying flat.
The Fiction: Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice
Lightning often his the same place repeatedly, especially if it is tall, pointy, or isolated. Lightning can hit anywhere, anytime, for any number of reasons. Whether lightning has hit there or not before has absolutely nothing to do with it.
The Fiction: Lightning Only Comes Out When It Rains
While especially true in Colorado – where we have summer lightning storms without falling rain, or rain falling with clear skies overhead – it is important to remember no matter where you go that lightning and rain are neither mutual nor exclusive. Lightning strikes can precede thunderstorm cells themselves by up to 50 miles if conditions are right (anvil lightning), but more frequently lightning occurs within 10-15 miles of a storm. The sound radius on thunder is usually only ten miles, or less if your surroundings are noisy, which means the first warning is the most important.
The Fiction: Victims of Lightning Strikes are Electrified and Carry a Dangerous Charge
This myth might proliferate thanks to the behavior of electricity in other settings – electrocution victims are frequently at risk of injuring their rescuers, if the initial electrocution hazard is not taken care of. Lightning, on the other hand, is a temporary and fleeting electrical charge. Once the electricity has moved on, victims of its’ electrical charge are not ‘charged’ and are completely safe to touch.
The Fiction: Anything Insulated Will Protect You From Lightning
While it is true that being in a vehicle provides some protection from electrocution during a lightning storm, it isn’t because of the insulating principles of rubber – so don’t believe that your rubber shoes, bicycle tires, or tractor tires are going to protect you from electrocution. The truth is that the durable metal cage (steel, aluminum, or otherwise) is what directs the electricity around and not through you. While not as ideal as being indoors, at least vehicles can offer a much higher safety margin than being exposed outdoors, or next to isolated, pointy objects.
Next week we’ll delve into the really BIG lightning myths – most especially answering the questions about surge protectors, lightning protection systems, and the ‘debatable’ safety of being indoors.
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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.
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