Why being in a car during a lightning storm is the safest place to be
As watcher of weather, both as as a one-time storm chaser as well as a person who gets sent email about weather of all kinds, I’ll have to say I’ve never seen anything like this video. The National Weather Service lighting safety page reports that a person’s odds of being struck by lightning are around 1 in 775,000 at any given time with 1/10,000 in an 80 year lifetime. Capturing the event live on video has to be even higher odds.
A police car dashcam captured footage of a direct lightning strike the roof of a Toyota Landcruiser carrying a senior Russian official on a rainy Russian day – while driving down the freeway.
I was even more struck by the odds of the lightning hitting the SUV while there are taller light poles along the freeway and taller buildings in the vicinity. It was just a case of being in the wrong place and the wrong time.
While the internal electronics for the SUV are possibly fried, the occupant wouldn’t be.
So why is being in a car during a lightning storm is the safest place to be? Two words – Faraday Cage. From Wikipedia:
A Faraday cage or Faraday shield is an enclosure formed by conducting material or by a mesh of such material. Such an enclosure blocks external static and non-static electric fields. Faraday cages are named after the English scientist Michael Faraday, who invented them in 1836.
A Faraday cage’s operation depends on the fact that an external static electrical field will cause the electric charges within the cage’s conducting material to redistribute themselves so as to cancel the field’s effects in the cage’s interior. This phenomenon is used, for example, to protect electronic equipment from lightning strikes and electrostatic discharges.
A Faraday cage is best understood as an approximation to an ideal hollow conductor. Externally or internally applied electromagnetic fields produce forces on the charge carriers (usually electrons) within the conductor, generating electric currents that rearranges the charges. Once the charges have rearranged so as to cancel the applied field inside, the currents stop.
If the cage is grounded, the excess charges will go to the ground instead of the outer face, so the inner face and the inner charge will cancel each other out and the rest of the cage will retain a neutral charge.
Note: The SUV has steel belted radial tires, and thus is essentially grounded as lightning easily jumps that dielectric gap.
h/t to WUWT reader Newton Love