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The Myths and Facts of Lightning

UPDATED June 23, 2014

By WeatherBug Meteorologists


We have all heard them before, the do`s and don`ts of lightning safety. However, how much of what you know is actually true and how much is simply a myth?

It`s important to be able to distinguish between the facts about lightning and the fiction, because it could mean the difference between life and death during a thunderstorm. Here are some of the most commonly made statements about lightning, and whether they are a myth or a fact.

1) Inside a car can be a safe place to seek shelter during a lightning storm.

Fact - It is true that a car can provide some degree of safety from lightning. Should lightning strike, the car`s metal shell would act as a "Faraday Cage" and channel the lightning safely around the interior and into the ground. Convertible only works with fully enclosed, metal exterior vehicles. As always, the safest place to be during a thunderstorm is indoors.

2) If it isn`t raining or there are no clouds directly overhead, you are safe from lightning.

Myth - This is a common misconception. Lightning can strike well outside of the rain-producing portion of a thunderstorm and even outside of the clouds entirely. As a rule of thumb, if you are close enough to see the lightning or hear thunder, lightning can strike and you should seek shelter immediately.

3) Trees and other large objects can provide safety if caught outdoors during a thunderstorm.

Myth - Never seek refuge near a tree. Lightning will take the path of least resistance to the ground, and a tall isolated object such as a tree or pole can make a great conductor for the electricity. As always, the safest place to be during a thunderstorm is indoors.

4) Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Myth - This is one of the oldest and most well-known lightning myths. There is no evidence or reasoning to support why lightning would not be able to strike the same place twice. In fact, it is very often recorded that lightning has struck the same place more than once. The Empire State Building in New York City for example gets hit on average about 100 times per year.

The take home message here is that when it comes to lightning safety, ignore the myths and know the facts. Remember, When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors.

Make sure that you download the WeatherBug app on your smart phone before you head out on any outdoor activities. The mobile app now includes Spark Lightning Alerts, a GPS-based lightning detection feature providing you the location of the closest lightning strike, so you can Know Before the storm hits. Click here for the link to download.

Be sure to keep WeatherBug active to receive the latest weather in your neighborhood and to get the latest updates anywhere on Twitter.


Photo courtesy of WeatherBug user, Annie G. in New York City.

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