Beware of the myths of lightning on stormy days

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It has sure been wet over this past week in Carroll County.  The local Mesonet system has recorded 2.11 inches in just the first seven days of July.  Last year, we saw 2.36 inches for the entire month.

With these rains can come lightning, and safety precautions need to be taken.

Check out some of the myths and facts about lightning:

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it is a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit nearly 100 times a year.

Myth: If it is not raining or there are not clouds overhead, you are safe from lightning.

Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud. “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10 to 15 miles from the thunderstorm.

Myth: Rubber tires on a car protect you from lightning by insulating you from the ground.

Fact: Most cars are safe from lightning, but it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, not the rubber tires.  Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational vehicles and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning. When lightning strikes a vehicle, it goes through the metal frame into the ground. Do not lean on car doors during a thunderstorm.

Myth: When a lightning victim is electrified, you will get electrocuted if you touch them.

Fact: The human body does not store electricity.  It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.

Myth: If you are outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.

Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties.

Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100 percent safe from lightning.

Fact: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows.

Windows are hazardous for two reasons: wind generated during a thunderstorm can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and second, in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows.

Myth: If thunderstorms threaten while you are outside playing a game, it is okay to finish it before seeking shelter.

Fact: Many lightning casualties occur because people do not seek shelter soon enough.  Seek proper shelter immediately if you hear thunder.

Myth: Structures with metal or metal on the body (jewelry, cell phones, MP3 players, watches, etc.) attract lightning.

Fact: Height, pointy shape and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike.  The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference on where lightning strikes.  Mountains are made of stone but get struck by lightning many times a year.

When lightning threatens, take proper protective action immediately by seeking a safe shelter and do not waste time removing metal. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it so stay away from metal fences, railing, bleachers, etc.

Myth: If I am trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, I should lie flat on the ground.

Fact:Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current.  If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, keep moving toward a safe shelter.

For more information on lightning, contact your Carroll County Cooperative Extension Service at (502) 732-7030.

Dates of interest

July 10: Carroll County Agricultural Development Council Meeting, 8 p.m., Carroll County Extension Office. The Ag Development Fund Inc. meeting will follow immediately after.


Christin Herbst is the Carroll County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to Christin.Herbst@uky.edu.