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Lightning Myths: Lightning only strikes good conductors.

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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TRUTH: Lightning will strike anything that happens to be in its path! As pointed out in Myth #1, the descending stepped leader of a lightning bolt doesn't 'decide what to strike' until it is very close to the ground. The lightning will strike whatever happens to be at that location, metal or no metal:


(Click for full photo)

Another more compelling example is this mountaintop location just north of downtown Charleston, WV (pictured below). A tall tower used by the airport is situated on the peak. On one occasion lightning bypassed the tower, which is much taller and more conductive than the surrounding trees, and struck a tree less than 40 feet away! The tree sustained heavy bark damage and later died from its injuries. Below is a photo of the location:

Like Myth #1, there is a small bit of truth to this misconception. If the descending stepped leader is only a few feet away from a 'metal' object, it likely will jump to the more conductive path to ground. But metal will not 'attract' lightning unless the lightning is already very close. At distances of more than 50 to 100 feet or so, a metal object, even a large or tall one (like the pole in the photo above) will have no affect on a lightning strike.

Again, as with Myth #1, extremely tall objects like towers and skyscapers will be more likely to take direct hits because they significantly reduce the air gap between cloud and ground.

What does all of this mean? Don't assume you are safe from lightning if you aren't near a metal object.

Related myths include those about lightning only striking tall objects, and the myth that carrying, wearing or standing near anything metal will increase chances of being hit by lightning.

See Also:

FAQ: If metal doesn't attract lightning, then why do laboratory sparks always hit the metallic objects?
FAQ: What can the outdoorsperson do to reduce the risk of getting hit by lightning?
MYTH: Small metal objects attract lightning, and I'm safer outside without any metal nearby.
MYTH: Lightning always strikes the tallest object.

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