Wildest lightning strike I've ever seen

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.

File:Faraday cage.gif

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.

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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

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tgmccoy

Cool. Been hit by lighting in an aircraft. They are an effective Faraday cage too. (As long as
the staic wicks are intact…) I would rather ride through a thunderstorm in a car however than
have that exquisite moment that you suddenly realize that you are about to go for an interesting ride. Especially when the cloud that you are in has turned a dark, sickly green…

Retired Engineer

Airplanes get struck by lightning on the ground and in-flight, damage is rare. Very high metal to glass ratio, so a reasonable “Faraday cage”. Not sure I’d want to try that in an SUV.

Gene Selkov

I haven’t seen a capture as good as this either, but I can tell you the odds of capturing all sorts of freak events in Russia are much higher than elsewhere because everybody there rides with a dash cam or a helmet cam constantly recording, collecting evidence for legal purposes, just in case (it is a wild country).

mwhite

I wonder [how] a car with a fibreglass or carbon fibre body would cope?

Jud

Top Gear did a good segment on this…
http://youtu.be/GZxgYNnkBd0

Gerald Machnee

I instruct navigators part time. We have a video taken at an airport in Japan where lightning strikes an aircraft shortly after take-off. It enters at the front and exits near the rear.
Last year an aircraft landing in Winnipeg was struck by lightning. passengers were not injured, but somewhat shook up.
With respect to a car, I heard (correctly?) that if you keep the windows closed you should be OK if lightning strikes.

Wayne Liston

Putin trying to prune the ranks? Running out of polonium?

Gerald Machnee

RE: mwhite says:
September 27, 2012 at 7:53 am
I wonder [how] a car with a fibreglass or carbon fibre body would cope?
A good question. The new airbuses are also composite. I trust (but do not know) that they are embedding metal to carry the electrical strokes. Some new ones are 25-50 percent composite.
Not sure what they are doing to cars as the composites offer more resistance and I would expect would sustain more damage.

Sam the First

It’s happened to me twice, once travelling down through France during a terrible storm in a Renault 4 many years ago – we got hit repeatedly and finally stopped under the next bridge to take shelter. Then years after I got caught in a storm in Chelsea, London, with my dog. We got back in the car and it got hit – we were ok but it was scary (and the dog who hadn’t been fazed by thunder and lightening until that point) was always a basket case in a storm ever after.
Both times lightening was coming down and hitting the ground repeatedly. It’s something to see! The worst storm of that sort I ever saw was in Italy – it was right on top of us, a late summer storm, and I had two horses at livery in a field at a hilltop farm. The lightening was hitting ground in the field over and over, all around them – the poor things were terrified but I’d have had no chance of catching them even if I’d dared venture out. It was also hitting the house, and coming down via my bedroom light fitting, finding a corner, and whizzing round the room before finding a way out and down. I was in bed with the dog and cats, cowering under a duvet. I’d thought the house was earthed….
Gene that’s very interesting!

Jimmy Haigh

I nearly got fried on a golf course in Venezuela once…
We should build a Faraday cage around the Earth for the next Carrington Event…

DonS

@tgmccoy says:
September 27, 2012 at 7:37 am
Saw that dark sickly green over Savannah one night in 1972. Also green 2Lt at the controls of a mighty O-2. Fortunately he flew the checklist (thunderstorm penetration airspeed and all that) and got himself and one shaky Staff Sergeant (me) on the ground safely.

beng

Rarely I’ve been very close to a lightning strike. It’s usually proceeded by a slight flash & snapping sound, then a fraction of a second later, the real bolt. Ear-drums can be busted…

I was in my car once when it got hit by lightning. The wiring was fried, but I felt nothing.
I did get shocked once holding a (land line) phone during a thunderstorm. Not as strong as an electrical outlet shock, but it was startling.

TomRude

OT: The Wikipedia page of Marcel Leroux is under attack by some zealots.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Marcel_Leroux
To those here who have read his work, help would be appreciated.

I have several Faraday flashlights that work quite well. Not sure I want a Faraday SUV. Yikes!

Gras Albert

In April 1999 a two seat all GRP training glider (ASK21) was struck by cloud to cloud lightning when at approximately 2,500ft above the ground and several hundred ft above cloudbase. The airframe disintegrated on or immediately after the strike, the pilot (an acquaintance of mine) and student both parachuted to the ground safely albeit with minor injuries.
On examination, the aircraft’s main spar was found to be desiccated, i.e. all the moisture in the resin/rovings composite had gone leaving behind a structure similar in properties to tissue paper.
The AAIB accident investigation report can be found here
http://www.aaib.gov.uk/cms_resources.cfm?file=/dft_avsafety_pdf_500699.pdf
The pilot continued to fly for some years but has now effectively given up the sport.

tgmccoy says: “Cool. Been hit by lighting in an aircraft.”
It isn’t cool when the lady two rows up the aisle starts screaming. Been there, done that.

John Pickens

I’d like to know if the electronics in the car were “fried” as you postulate.
I had a friend get hit by lightning in his SUV, and there was no damage except a burn mark at the corner of the sheet metal by the passenger front windshield. No electronic problems at all.
Makes you wonder about the EMP disaster scenarios from both manmade and sun-caused events. I know that power lines and EMP are a potentially huge problem, but cars and consumer electronics, I’m not so sure.
My house got hit by lightning. Direct hit on the oil tank vent cap which sticks out of the foundation opposite the basement-mounted oil tank. It blew a few ground fault interruptors, took out my Dish network receiver, one 10-100 ethernet switch, and one of three HDMI ports on my LCD TV.
That’s it, from a direct strike, so again, I’m not too worried about EMP or solar events.

Chris4692

Years ago, houses and other buildings generally had lightning rods. There are fewer lightning rods now. Perhaps that didn’t matter when there was a cast iron sewer vent sticking up and cast iron pipe to the ground, but plumbing is now plastic, and house wiring is too flimsy to deal with lightening. Should houses be equipped with lightning rods? Or were lightening rods less common in the past than I presume and lightning strikes on houses are too uncommon for lightning rods to be worthwhile?

D Böehm

Kids, don’t try this at home.

Heck, some of the other videos are even better!

Geoff Alder

It certainly is not always the high points that are struck. Way back in days when we were experiencing many vivid lightning storms I lived in an 18-storey apartment building. Far below us, directly across the road was a 3-storey hotel, and next to that a 10-storey YMCA. Those nights I was getting many good lightning shots, and was taking out my camera and tripod one night as a storm rumbled up. As I walked out onto the balcony, a dazzling strike barreled down right in front of my eyes, striking the hotel so very many floors further down. A wind had come up with the storm, blowing some curtains out of an open window. The flash ignited the curtains, which resulted in a huge chorus of shouts of ‘fire’ from the YMCA.

The brake lights continued to work after the strike.

The upward streamer from the ground will have come from the two street lights that the car past under as the lightening struck, the suv will have completed the circuit, you can make out the flash of the streamers from the street lights in the video if you look closely.

Power Grab

@ John Pickens says:
September 27, 2012 at 8:40 am
Makes you wonder about the EMP disaster scenarios from both manmade and sun-caused events. I know that power lines and EMP are a potentially huge problem, but cars and consumer electronics, I’m not so sure.
==================
I used to have a wrist watch that would reset itself whenever there was a big solar flare. It got to where I would notice it had reset itself again, then go look at the spaceweather.com page for solar flares, and – sure enough – there was a solar flare at about the time it had reset.

Look at the frame at 0:25 two stereamers can clearly be seen arcing from the streat lights just befor the strike! 🙂

I have had several lightening experiences.
My father, my brother, and I were on the front porch watching a thunder storm when lightning hit a telephone pole about 100 feet away. It blew off the top of the pole which landed in our front yard about 20 feet away.
Another time, I was driving down the south loop in Houston. Lightning hit a pole to my right. Shortly after that, lightning hit the corner of a building to my left. Shortly after that, it hit another pole to my left. It was like nature was shooting at me.
Another time, I was working at my computer. In the room I also had my 2 meter radio in the room (N5DXI). The antenna was on the roof. A lightning strike came though the coax into the room with me. The radio was toast but the computer survived. The UPS probably helped a lot. Most of my equipment was connected to that. Also the antenna wire ran next to a cast iron vent pipe in the wall. The flash that I saw seemed to some from where the vent pipe and the coax were next to each other. That part of the wall was open from when the coax was fished down.

cbrtxus

Lightning… 🙂

cdquarles

I have never been in a direct strike, but I have been within 500 feet of a strike twice. I was a child the first time, when lightning struck a tree NE of our house. Everyone was sitting in a screened porch when it happened. I felt the hair stand up and a tingling sensation then light/boom! The second time I was grilling in the patio (not screened). Lightning struck a radio tower one block south of me. The tower was the radio-telephone tower used to page personnel and communicate with EMA. No sensation, just light/boom!

Article: “A Faraday cage or Faraday shield is an enclosure formed by conducting material or …”
Here we go again; a Faraday cage works to shield the electrostatic field (E-field) only. It has nil (negligible) effect on the magnetic (H-field) component.
The thing that REALLY protects one inside a conductive cage like a car to a dynamic (changing) signal phenomenon like a lightning stroke is the WGBCO Effect (Wave Guide Beyond Cut-Off) … the same effect that ‘kills’ reception (the signal received) on a portable AM broadcast radio when it is taken inside a car; the wavelength of AM broadcast (and the majority of the lightning strike energy) is way, way WAY longer than the distance/aperture represented by the ‘entry’ points (e.g. windows, doors) into the vehicle … the WGBCO effect forces current to flow on the *exterior* of the vehicle (or conductor or conductive box).
EMI remediation (radiated emissions) relies on this WGBCO effect; the lesson is to keep your slits or holes in your product ‘small’ compared to the wavelength of your problematic EMI/RFI producer situated inside the box.
.

Look at the frame at 0:25 two streamers can clearly be seen arcing from the street lights just before the strike! 🙂

Bill Parsons

Gerald Machnee says:
September 27, 2012 at 7:59 am
I instruct navigators part time. We have a video taken at an airport in Japan where lightning strikes an aircraft shortly after take-off. It enters at the front and exits near the rear.
Last year an aircraft landing in Winnipeg was struck by lightning. passengers were not injured, but somewhat shook up.
With respect to a car, I heard (correctly?) that if you keep the windows closed you should be OK if lightning strikes.

…But with respect to electronic components?
I noticed the car’s taillights and brake lights continue to function after the strike.

Biggest lightening strike I ever saw hit the railroad tracks about a mile ahead of me. Turned out a friend of mine’s car was hit as he was crossing the tracks. He was fine. Older model car didn’t even stop working.

I watched this video closely earlier, several times as a matter of fact, and I’m going to submit that it was an object (light pole or other object) JUST beyond the SUV.
Note: The tires do not seem to be flattened and there are documented cases where a car struck by lighting suffered deflation of all four tires, and the pavement was ‘marked’ where the four tires had been as well.
Also note the ‘struck’ vehicle is slowing down for other traffic ahead of it in the same (left) lane. A car is visible in the last frame or two of that video. One will have to run the vid several times or stop it and move around ‘manually’ to see it.
Haven’t had time to digest completely the following report linked below, but, there is a table titled: “Summary of type and number of vehicle related events, deaths, and injuries. ..” in this document and it seems to show 4 deaths and 77 injuries for people occupying a vehicle during a lightning strike:
“LIGHTNING-CAUSED DEATHS AND INJURIES IN THE VICINITY OF VEHICLES”
http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_pls/lightning-caused-deaths-around-vehicles.pdf
Tables contain various accounts/data including the following:
30 June 2000 Wakefield, Rhode Island
“16-year-old girl passenger struck in left arm by current after flash hit
ground next to car and bounced into it; she was taken to a hospital.”
16 July 2000 Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
“Man injured when lightning hit his car while waiting at intersection; his
arm was numb from current traveling through steering wheel.”
19 August 2000 Cumberland, N. Carolina
“23-year old man knocked unconscious when lightning hit his truck
while driving on N.C. 24.”
28 June 2001 Carmel, New York
“Man and woman driving on Route 301 when SUV was hit in antenna;
paint burned, filled with smoke, windshield cracked, two tires exploded,
and airbags deployed. The highway was damaged.”
.

I was once in an airliner (about 120 passenger capacity), when its wing was struck by lightning. Plane shook, it went into brief dive, maybe 2-3 sec but it felt much longer. We were informed that it was a wing strike, on lending we could clearly see that one aluminium tile was damaged, and few more blackened.

Beta Blocker

Can we expect the number of cars hit by lightning to increase as the rate of global warming accelerates?

Sparx

beng said:
“Rarely I’ve been very close to a lightning strike. It’s usually proceeded by a slight flash & snapping sound, then a fraction of a second later, the real bolt. Ear-drums can be busted…”
That is a very good description of being within a few hundred meters of a strong ground strike. In a former life, I spent a lot of time at mountain and hill top repeater sites doing communications work for a mining engineering company. I have experienced a good many of these events.
What happens is this:
Lightning strikes nearby. At the speed of light both the light and the spreading magnetic field from the bolt leave the plasma tube and radiate outward. The sonic energy from the heated air leaves at the same time but is traveling much slower (1100 ft/sec)
Then, if you are close enough for the magnetic field strength to affect your nervous system and far enough away that you can perceive the time difference between the magnetic effects and the sonic effects, you “hear” a click (sounds like two steel balls striking one another) when the magnetic field disturbs your audio nerves. Depending on the nature of the strike, you may hear one single click or several clicks in rapid succession. The clicks are followed immediately by the boom of the sonic energy some perceivable number of milliseconds later. The click and the light from the plasma are perceived simultaneously.
This effect does not happen once the strike is far enough away from you that the nerve disturbance threshold is not crossed by the magnitude of the magnetic pulse when it reaches you.

DirkH

“Watch a severe storm front approach and witness a extremely close lightning strike of a large tree.”

DirkH

Bill Parsons says:
September 27, 2012 at 9:36 am
“…But with respect to electronic components?”
Car electronics have lightning protection built in (very fast Zener diodes or thyristors or something like that).

oldseadog

I was going up the Malacca Strait once in heavy rain, loaded with motor spirit (gas to N. Americans) and with St. Elmo’s Fire apparent in the mast shrouds, when lightning hit the sea surface about 50 yards away.
Scary, considering that the cargo tanks were venting vapour all the time.

Rodger

This happened to Apollo 12 shortly after launch. To bad cars don’t have an SCE to aux switch.

Robert Bissett

Serving at a US Army radio transmitting station (WTA}, near Manila,
P.I. , circa 1948, we had many exciting times with lightning. Located
at a former golf course, the station had about 12 or 14 rhombic antennas.
These elongated diamond-shaped antennas are made of wire stretched
on towers. Some were 700-to 800 feet long The antennas were connected to the station building by open-wire lines on wood poles. The station ceiling was crossed from two sides by wire lines that were down-connected to the transmitters.
A fine collector of lightning that is hard to beat. My introduction to
the events began one afternoon when I heard a series of loud snaps.
With one of the other technicians pointing to the top of a transmitter,
I saw a spark jump from a transmission line to a grounded wire about
a 1/4 inch from the line. He said “Storm near ” , walked to the open
door and pointed to the horizon. About 5 to 10 miles away were large
dark clouds with many lightning strikes. At most strikes a snap was
heard at one of the spark-gaps. The transmitter spark-gaps were not
the only ones, as gaps were also placed the antenna connections
and at the building wall insulator bowls where the lines came through.
That first storm passed us by, nothing more happened.
Another day a storm passed right over us and we took several direct hitson the antennas. The spark-gaps were busy and handled the strikes except one . That one produced a ball of fire that traveled across the ceiling on the wire lines and also down to a transmitter . The noise was
deafening. All the transmitters went off-line due to the strike, and we had to restart them, all except the one hit directly. Later we found that transmitter’s antenna tuning capacitor had partially melted and several
plates fused together. Some file work restored it to service.
So work on transmitters and lines and antennas was always done with an eye on the weather. Also every transmitter had two ground cables that were hooked on to the antenna connection while working on a transmitter. This was done even in the dry season as the transmitter room was rf hot. All conductors had some rf voltage on them . RF burns
are not nice.
I worked at a number of other radio stations around the world but none
had lightning like that at Manila.
rb

Power Grab

I suspect that our newer electronic drive-by-wire and fly-by-wire transportation is vulnerable to abnormal electrical signals, such as from lightning or other transient(?) EMF anomalies.
I personally believe the cars that have the well-publicized accelerator problems have been hit with EMF signals that are just close enough to their actual operating signals that they cause the unintended acceleration. Since it is possible to program one’s iPhone to control a car remotely, why would it not also be possible for a rogue signal to cause unintended behavior in a car or plane that uses drive-by-wire or fly-by-wire control?
I also saw a story recently where a person was getting bogus signals from their car’s tire-inflation system, telling them a tire was low. Upon inspection, it was normal. The problem happened more than once, usually at the same location in a route the person drove every day. I suspect the location that had the trigger was where a strong(?), compatible signal was being emitted all the time.

george e smith

“””””…..mwhite says:
September 27, 2012 at 7:53 am
I wonder [how] a car with a fibreglass or carbon fibre body would cope?…..”””””
Carbon fiber is a perfectly good conductor in those kind of fields. Fiberglass, not so good. If the lightning can jump 10,000 ft from the cloud, it isn’t going to even notice a few inches of rubber near the ground; it will just jump right from car body to ground; so steel belt or not makes no difference. For that matter, car tires are full of carbon anyway.
Carbon fiber or even fiberglass fly rods, make excellent Lightning rods; I’ve been stung by discharges through a rod several times, in the Florida Keys, sure made me lower the rod tip fast, before the boat got blasted.

Re: vukcevic says: September 27, 2012 at 9:45 am
Forgot to mention that at the time plain was above the clouds (I would think safer) and the strike was under the wing tip. It makes me think perhaps it would be safest to fly through the cloud, in which case plane would not have surface charge different to the one of the surrounding cloud.
Any comments from pilots?

wayne

Doesn’t lightning always just follow the path of least resistance? That is, irregardless of the height of surrounding structures.
I have always told the kids…. just remember also that sharp edges and points, especially metal like umbrellas, connected to the ground in any manner, even by just a solid coat of non-pure water, tend to bleed towards the clouds as invisible streamers of ions and this just may help make YOU the path of least resistance!
Bet that SUV had a sharp antenna on top and after all, it was metal and thoroughly wet.

DirkH

Power Grab says:
September 27, 2012 at 10:26 am
“I also saw a story recently where a person was getting bogus signals from their car’s tire-inflation system, telling them a tire was low. Upon inspection, it was normal. The problem happened more than once, usually at the same location in a route the person drove every day. I suspect the location that had the trigger was where a strong(?), compatible signal was being emitted all the time.”
Other possible explanation: The multi purpose car computer (the one that does audio, GPS, entertainment etc) is also responsible for the tire sensors (as that is probably an informational application, not a safety critical one). Sometimes the navigation software has bad spots in a map that can trip up a software process. A watchdog process will then usually kill that process and restart it, if not the entire computer system. That’s guesswork, but during such a malfunction it could be possible that an error cascade confuses the part of the software that checks the tire sensors.
The funny thing about this kind of error is that it drives the affected person nuts but the test department never caught it because they never drove over that road.

george e smith

“””””…..DirkH says:
September 27, 2012 at 10:11 am
Bill Parsons says:
September 27, 2012 at 9:36 am
“…But with respect to electronic components?”
Car electronics have lightning protection built in (very fast Zener diodes or thyristors or something like that)……”””””
Well anyone who designs ICs knows that every single “pin” that makes a connection from the outside world to the chip inside, does so through a “pad” that is an ESD protection system, for that circuit. Standard pad designs are capable of protecting against high Voltage discharges for circuits inside the chip.
Pad designs are customised for Input pins, output pins, and power supply pins. Inputs are specially troublesome, because there often is a circuit function need for that input to have a very low capacitance to ground or any other circuit, so having to add a load of crap on there to protect the input against ESD is a nightmare for designers, specially Analog circuit designers.
I once designed an Analog CMOS IC that had only three pins; ground, power, and output. There was no input pin because the chip was an integrated photo-diode detector, and current feedback amplifier, so the input was optical, so no need to bring the amplifier input connection off the chip.
As a resut the input stray capacitance was extremely small, which enabled a very high gain bandwidth product.
There’s no excuse for car or aircraft electronics blowing up from lightning strikes.

Harold Ambler

Airplanes formerly were protected from the effects of lightning strikes by copper wire wound around and around the fuselage. The technology is evolving, but the same idea of creating a “super” Faraday cage applies:
http://www.dexmet.com/Aircraft-Lightning-Strike-Protection.html
On the sub-thread of flying through electric storms:
My wife and I flew into Austin for a wedding about ten years ago. We traveled through the most intense thunderstorm I hope I ever see up close: constant lightning flashes, several elevator-shaft plunges when encountering sheer. The hail was so thick that the plane sounded like a giant metal scooper being sent through crushed ice at 300 mph.
My experience is that airplane pilots like to underplay such adventures. Our captain that night, as we taxied to the gate in Austin, said this: “I’m not going to lie to you folks. That was one hell of a ride.”

John Silver