August 5, 2009 | Barb Carr

An Education Hazard Tip: What do you really know about lightning?

I think about the times my dad told me to go out an play in the lightning storm and to stand under the tallest item I could find during a thunderstorm and… okay not really, but think about what your dad or mom really told you about lightning storms. Helping with homework the other day, I was reminded about what was helpful and what wasn’t. Reference from

Lightning Myth #1
The tallest objects in a storm don’t always get struck by lightning. It’s true that taller objects are closer to the clouds, but as discussed previously, lightning can strike the ground at a close distance to a tall object. Taller objects may have a higher possibility of a strike, but where lightning is concerned, the strike path is not predictable.

Lightning Myth #2 (Had this argument the other day, I was wrong! Where do you buy these protectors?)
Surge protectors won’t save your electronics (TV, VCR, PC) if lightning strikes your power line. Surge protectors provide protection for power surges in the line from the power company, but not for lightning. To really guard against strike damage, you need a lightning arrester. The arrester uses a gas-filled gap that acts as an open circuit to low potentials, but becomes ionized and conducts at very high potentials. If the lightning hits the line you are protecting, the gas gap will conduct the current safely to ground.

Lightning Myth #3 (Even my teachers lied to me)
Ben Franklin was not struck by lightning. Contrary to popular school teachings, Mr. Franklin was very lucky to survive his experiment. The spark he saw was a product of the kite/key system being in a strong electric field. Had the kite/key actually been struck, Mr. Franklin would surely have been killed. As we all know now, his experiment was extremely dangerous and should not be repeated.

Lightning Myth #4 (Does a composite car ruin this?)
Rubber tires aren’t why you’re safe in a car during a lightning storm. In strong electric fields, rubber tires actually become more conductive than insulating. You’re safe in a car 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.

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