It’s thunderstorm season again. The overly cautious are telling everybody about the dangers of lightning, and the brave and clueless are spreading misinformation. Dangerous misinformation, at that.
First of all, the disclaimer: lightning is dangerous. In the United States, there are about 400 injuries and 40 deaths due to lightning every year. Those numbers were much higher in the past. They’ve declined as the country has become more urban and people spend more of their time indoors.
If you can hear thunder, then a lightning strike in your area is possible. The likelihood of a strike is another matter, but if you want to be safe and follow the NOAA guidelines: “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
I’m not nearly that cautious. After all, bee stings kill 25% more people per year in the U.S. than does lightning.
That said, if you decide to stay outside despite the NOAA’s advice, there are some things you should know. You shouldn’t be near the tallest tree or structure in the area. If you’re in the middle of an empty field, you’re at a much higher risk of being struck by lightning. Follow the NOAA’s outdoor guidelines.
Most importantly, don’t think that wearing shoes with rubber soles will help you. Sure, rubber is a good insulator, but all insulators have voltage ratings. Lightning melts thick glass insulators. Your wimpy little 1/2 rubber sole might as well not exist when it comes to a million-volt lightning strike.
And don’t think that cars can’t be struck by lightning. If you believe that the rubber tires on your car are protection against lightning, take a look at this video of a moving pickup truck being struck by lightning.