How do I avoid getting struck?
More than 1,000 people get struck by lightning every year in the U.S., and more than 100 of them die as a result of the strike. Lightning is not something to toy with. There are several precautions you can take to guarantee your safety in a storm.
If you're outside:
- Always look for appropriate shelter in a building or a car. Most people think it is the rubber tires that keep you safe in a car because they do not conduct electricity. Actually, in strong electric fields, rubber tires become more conductive than insulating. The reason you are safe in a car is because the lightning will travel around the surface of the vehicle and then go to ground. This occurs because the vehicle acts like a Faraday Cage. Michael Faraday, a British physicist, discovered that a metal cage would shield objects within the cage when a high potential discharge hit the cage. The metal, being a good conductor, would direct the current around the objects and discharge it safely to the ground. This process of shielding is widely used today to protect the electrostatic sensitive integrated circuits in the electronics world.
- Avoid taking shelter under trees. Trees attract lightning. Put your feet as close together as possible and crouch down with your head as low as possible without touching the ground - remember step voltage - you only want one contact point with the ground. Never lay down on the ground for the same reason; you never want the current to have the ability to pass through your body.
If you're inside:
- Stay off the phone. If you must call someone, use a cordless phone or cell phone. If lightning strikes the phone line, the strike will travel to every phone on the line and potentially to you if you are holding the phone.
- Stay away from plumbing pipes (bathtub, shower). Lightning has the ability to strike a house or near a house and impart an electrical charge to the metal pipes used for plumbing. This threat is not as great as it used to be, because PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is often used for indoor plumbing these days. If you are not sure what your pipes are made of, wait it out.