Lightning is one of the leading causes of weather related fatalities. An estimated 25 million lightning strikes hit the US each year during around 100,000 thunderstorms. Yet there are a surprising number of popularly held myths about lightning which are entirely wrong.
1) Rubber soles on your shoes protect you from lightning
Rubber soles will not protect you from lightning. Although rubber is a poor conductor of electricity, so is air, and to get to you the lightning has already traveled a great distance though this poor conductor. People who cannot make it to a suitable building are advised to shelter in a car because of the metal frame, not because the rubber tires will protect them.
2) Lightning never hits the same place twice
Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly. The buildings most frequently struck by lightning are television towers and skyscrapers, as they are generally the highest points in their environment. On June 30, 2014, the three tallest skyscrapers in Chicago were struck an amazing 17 times during a single storm.
3) Lightning always hits the highest structures
Cloud to ground lightning strikes are born high above the earth and are not influenced by structures on the ground until they are around 50 feet above the earth. Only very tall buildings are likely to influence the location of a strike, and lightning often strikes the ground despite the presence of trees and buildings in the vicinity. Staying away from a large tree or simply lying or crouching on the ground will not keep you safe from lightning.
4) Lightning only strikes metal
Lightning rods do not attract lightning, they merely offer it a convenient route to the earth. Lightning can hit anything in its path. You are not more likely to be hit by lightning while wearing headphones, carrying a metal tipped umbrella or golf club. Conversely, you are not safe outside during a lightning storm just because you are not close to any metal objects. The only way to be safe during a lightning storm is to get indoors.
5) Lightning does not hit water
Water is a better conductor of electricity than air, so this misconception is surprising. People are often hit by lightning either boating or swimming in the water, and when lightning does hit water the shock can travel an impressive distance. During a lightning storm people are advised to stay clear of bodies of water and avoid using plumbing, washing hands, and taking showers.
6) If it is not raining and there are no clouds, there will be no lightning
Lightning often strikes around three miles away from a storm, but certain types of lightning have been recorded a whopping 50 miles away from a storm, so the absence of clouds immediately above you is no guarantee of safety. After all, lightning can easily travel around 100 miles from a bank of storm clouds to hit the ground. If you can hear the thunder, you are too close to the storm and should seek shelter immediately.
Now you know the truth about lightning, you can avoid it more easily.