Why are you safe from lightning in a car?

Hint: It’s NOT the rubber tires

Why are you safe from lightning in a car?
Lightning is one of earth's most powerful and dangerous forces. Make sure you know what to do to stay safe. (Source: WWBT)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - When thunder roars and lightning cracks across the sky, there are two safe places to seek shelter: inside a sturdy building or inside a hard topped car.

Many people believe cars are safe from lightning because the rubber tires prevent lightning from striking the car, but this is a myth that has been proven false.

A lightning bolt is so powerful (it’s hotter than the surface of the sun!) it will go through the tires or could actually melt them. Rubber tires offer no protection from lightning. We also know this true because people have been killed by lightning while riding on motorcycles and bicycles during a thunderstorm.

Cars are safe from lightning because of the metal cage surrounding the people inside the vehicle. This may sound counter-intuitive because metal is a good conductor of electricity, but the metal cage of a car directs the lightning charge around the vehicle occupants and safely into the ground. The car essentially becomes a Faraday cage and protects anyone inside.

Convertibles are not safe from lightning because they are not entirely surrounded by a metal cage.

People are safe from lightning inside a car because the metal cage directs lightning around the occupants of the car and safely into the ground.
People are safe from lightning inside a car because the metal cage directs lightning around the occupants of the car and safely into the ground. (Source: National Weather Service)

Once inside a car, don’t touch any metal and pull off the road until the storm passes. A good rule of thumb is to keep your hands in your lap until the storm passes.

NBC12′s Andrew Freiden talked at length about lightning in a recent “Weather Together” Facebook Live video on the NBC12 Facebook page.

NBC12 Weather Together

Join Andrew Freiden NBC12 for a mini-lesson on LIGHTNING!

Posted by NBC12 on Thursday, April 2, 2020

A few more tips to keep in mind to stay safe from lightning as we enter the spring storm season:

1. Plan ahead. Do not put yourself in a position where you are far from safe shelter if thunderstorm chances are in the forecast. The NBC12 First Alert Weather App is a great tool to help you plan ahead for being outdoors.

2. Do not wait to seek shelter if the sky turns threatening. As soon as you hear thunder, it is time to cancel/postpone outdoor activities and head directly to shelter. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles (rarely even up to 15 miles) ahead of a thunderstorm in areas where it is not raining. Many people are struck on their way to safe shelter because they did not end their activities early enough.

3. Sturdy buildings and hard topped vehicles are the only safe places from lightning. No place outside is safe from lightning. Picnic shelters, trees, tents, portable restrooms, baseball dugouts, etc. are NOT safe from lightning.

The only safe place to be during a thunderstorm is in a sturdy building or hard topped vehicle.
The only safe place to be during a thunderstorm is in a sturdy building or hard topped vehicle. (Source: National Weather Service)

4. Wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder to go back outside. Just as lightning can strike miles ahead of a storm, lightning can also strike behind it.

5. Once indoors, stay off corded phones, stay out of the shower, and don’t use a computer until the storm passes. Anything that is plugged into a wall outlet or attached to plumbing is risky because if a lightning bolt strikes the building or nearby, it could send an electric charge through wiring or plumbing and injure anyone touching it. Cell phones are safe.

6. If you are stuck outside while hiking or camping and have absolutely no safe shelter (such as a vehicle or building) nearby, as a last resort there are a few things to do to reduce your chances of being struck. Get to the lowest spot available (avoiding open areas such as fields and water bodies including lakes/rivers), and crouch down on the balls of your feet. The idea is to make yourself as small as possible and reduce the surface area of your body that is touching the ground. Again, this is a last resort, and NOAA actually stopped recommending the “lightning crouch” in 2008 because people should not use the crouch unless there are no better options available. If you check the weather forecast before going far from safe shelter, you should never find yourself in this situation.

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