The Safest Place to be during a Lightning Storm

Nothing is more awe inspiring or impressive as the fury of lightning and its captivating dance across the sky. Its sometimes deafening thunder is loved by some and feared by many people and animals, often a good indication for a coming storm or need for worry. With roughly 280 people injured (some leading to fatalities) a year from lightning damage it is with good reason. But where is the safest place to be during a storm?

While dogs and children would say the best place is under a table or covers on the bed respectively, many are never so fortunately placed to even consider that an option. Typically people the most at risk are the enthusiasts of the outdoors such as golfers, swimmers, and hikers to name a few. In cases where one is caught in the outdoors – especially the open – knowing what counts as “safe places” is invaluable knowledge that could save their lives.

Of the universal safe places: Houses, cars, and low areas, the first two would be preferable but are not always an option if someone is caught in the wide open spaces. With the threat of a storm, the first instinct is to find shelter to wait the storm out, which could be under a tree or another sheltering object. That’s well and good if the objective is to stay dry, but any tall object and a two meter radius around it would be the first to suffer damage of a lightning strike, especially if that is one of the tallest objects around. Instead, the wet and safe place would be in a ditch or low area crouched down with your arms around your knees. This position is important because if lightning does strike you, it will follow the path of least resistance through your head and chin to your arms follow the legs and from feet go into the ground. While taking damage, the most sensitive organ to electrical disruption – your heart – remains out of harm’s way.

In the case of a more fortunate person, there’s the car. The myth with cars is that they are safe because of their tires, providing natural insulation and thus resistance to the chances of being struck. The fact is that it’s a Faraday Cage. A Faraday Cage is a metal framed structure that gives electricity a path to follow around its outside but leaves the center unscathed. These cages have many convenient applications in industry and science, and coincidentally the car happens to resemble them. However, that’s only if the person inside remains wary of all the metal in the car that may be attached to the frame. Touching the cage is the same as getting struck yourself. Therefore while a car is a good place, it is still quite dangerous as well.

A house or building is the best place to be in a storm, but there are still dangerous things to remember during storms. A house is not immune to lightning damage and fires can result from being struck directly. Also plumbing in the ground can lead an outside ground strike through the pipes and into the house sometimes through water lines or even blowing up toilets. Because this is an age of technology, the use of electrical appliances, computers, or televisions are at risk with or without surge protectors.

Since lightning can go most places the best thing to remember is to just be cautious. If the beauty of its power is respected as much as admired then it shouldn’t be a problem.