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8 Myths about Lightning

8 Myths about Lightning

Do you think you know what to do during a lightning storm? Odds are, there are at least a few things your teacher got wrong — and believing in these myths can be a fatal mistake. Though rare, lightning is the second highest weather-related cause of death in the United States. Luckily, with some basic precautions, injuries and deaths can be avoided. Click through to check out some of the most persistent myths about lightning.

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1. Myth: If You’re Stuck Outdoors, a Tree is Your Safest Shelter.

After ground currents, trees are actually the second leading cause of fatalities durning a storm. Despite what you may have been told in school, it’s much safer to keep moving to a safe shelter than to take refuge under a tree.

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2. Myth: Your Home is Totally, 100% Safe.

Your home is usually safe — at least safer than outside — but there are still precautions you should make while waiting out a storm indoors. Avoid any objects that conduct electricity, like phones, plumbing, appliances and cables. You should also stay away from windows, since the storm may grow powerful enough to break through the glass. If your home is older, you also run the risk of the lightning seeping through the windows.

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3. Myth: If You Don’t See Rain or Clouds, You’re Safe.

If you can see lightning off in the distance, but there’s not a drop in the cloud-free sky, that doesn’t mean you’re free from harm. In fact, the so-called “calm before the storm” (and after a storm)  are some  of the most dangerous times to be struck by lightning. That’s because lightning strikes are the most hazardous when the lightning travels so fast that the storm hasn’t even caught up with it.

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4. Myth: Lie Flat on The Ground If You’re Outdoors During a Lightning Storm.

No, no, no! If you lie flat on the ground, you’re actually more at risk of injury, because you are exposing yourself to dangerous currents in the ground. As always, seek shelter instead of staying where you are.

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5. Myth: Having Metal on You Attracts Lightning.

Does your watch or cell phone make you more susceptible to lightning strikes? Luckily, no. Lightning will strike a nonmetal object just as easily as a metal one — it really doesn’t have a preference either way. But that doesn’t mean metal is entirely safe after it’s been struck because it conducts electricity. So, to be safe, stay away from anything metal during a lightning storm, but don’t waste time removing the metal that’s on you; the faster you can find a shelter, the better.

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6. Myth: Lightning Strikes are Usually Fatal.

Here’s the one myth that we’re happy to report isn’t true — you have a greater chance of walking away from a lightning strike than, well, not walking away. The estimates vary, but anywhere between 3-30% of lightning-related injuries are fatal. The actual number is probably on the lower end of that range, because lethal strikes are likely overrepresented, and non-lethal strikes are likely underrepresented.

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7. Myth: You Should Never Touch Someone Who Was Struck by Lightning.

Quite simply, that’s just not how it works. The human body doesn’t store electricity. It’s perfectly safe to touch a person injured by lightning, and often necessary, because they likely need first aid.

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8. Myth: Lightning Doesn’t Strike the Same Place Twice.

This popular saying has little truth behind it. Lighting can strike the same place twice, three times, or even a few dozen.

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Katie Waldeck

Katie is a freelance writer focused on pets, food and women’s issues. A Chicago native and longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Katie now lives in Oakland, California.

253 comments

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7:20AM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

Interesting! Thanks.

8:27AM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

intriguing. interesting article. thanks

7:32PM PDT on Aug 19, 2013

I was wondering when they were going to get to the lightning never strikes twice when I was in land scaping I know of a tree on a hill that was always getting hit. I know of about 8-10 times it got hit and a strip of barl was almost always stripped from the strike to the ground.

10:07AM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

Well, her's what I've come to learn. You might want to think twice about walking home from the grocery store when it's warm, humid and BLASTING LIGHTENING!
I was walking home Friday evening from the store, pushing my shopping cart full of groceries (as I don't have a car) and I live about three blocks from the grocery store. NO big deal right? (sort of embarrassing, but oh well..!!)
It was already semi dark, and the clouds were a bit nasty, (but before I left the store, we heard a big pound of thunder. I got a bit nervous, but thought nothing of when I looked outside.) By the tiome I got to the stop light a block or so away from my house, I HUGE, AND I MEAN HUGE!! BOLT OF LIGHTENING came crashing down some twenty feet away from me, and then energy tapped onto a electrical pole and it started to ZIPP ZIPP, ZAPP ZAPP, ZOPP ZOPP! All I copuld think was,.. OMG, GET ME OUT OF HERE! PLEASE LIGHT TURN GREEN SO I CAN RUN BEFORE THE THE ELECTRICAL CURRENT HITS THE GROUND AND RUNS UP ME!
By the time I got home, another on tapped down some ways away from my front door. Never again will I joke around about wanting to be struck down by lightening! That's some serious electrical energy! Next time I think I'll call a cab!

1:47AM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

I'd never heard of advice such as getting under a tree or laying flat on the ground outdoors for safety... interesting, good to know that these are FALSE!

4:52AM PDT on Aug 3, 2013

Thanks.

11:50PM PDT on Jul 31, 2013

Fascinating facts about an interesting aspect of Mother Nature. I have to admit that thunder and lightning storms are fascinating and I drive around isolated rural roads in the middle of a storm as there are fascinating photos to take.

8:25PM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

Lightening seeps through windows? How does that work? Seems more likely that it would just explode the glass.

4:49PM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

Good to know.... thanks for posting!

5:29PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Wow- scary stuff! Thanks for the good information- and awesome photos!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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