Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
Weather, photography and the open roadClick for an important message
Storm Highway by Dan RobinsonClick for an important message

MYTH: Ipods, Walkmans and headphones will attract lightning and/or make lightning strike injuries worse.

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TRUTH: As pointed out in the refutation of the myth that small metal objects attract lightning, objects less than a 100 feet high above ground are inconsequential to a lightning strike's final target. Headphone cables and portable music players are no different. There is the question of whether the presence of headphones will help or hurt you if you do happen to get hit directly. If a person is hit directly by lightning, they will have severe burns and potentially fatal injuries either way. There is no evidence that having a wire running down your side will cause greater burns or injury. In fact, the headphone cable could actually help you by diverting the bulk of the lightning current around your upper body and away from your heart, like a miniature lightning protection system - although the wire will still be 'overloaded' (likely vaporizing) and cause severe burns. If the wire is not there, the channel is in direct contact with your skin all the way down, with a potent percentage of current also running through your body. Either way you are going to be in bad shape. Better to just not get struck in the first place!

Which brings us to the main point: Mitigating the risk of a lightning strike has everything to do with not being outside where lightning can hit you in the first place. In other words, proper shelter is the only way to protect yourself from lightning. There is absolutely no safety out in the open. If you are hit directly, doing little things like wearing/not wearing headphones, talking on a cell phone, crouching down, etc are not going to make much difference in your chances of surviving.

The main objective in lightning safety is not how to to survive a strike, but rather to avoid getting hit in the first place - which is done by getting yourself out of the way of all of the places lightning can strike. Any advice that suggests a person out in the open with no shelter can do anything to reduce the risk of a strike (other than bringing along a full-size Faraday cage) doesn't produce anything but a false sense of security. Any perception that an Ipod or Walkman can do anything to influence lightning could result in people who could have made it to shelter instead deciding to stay outside, deciding to either put on/take off his/her iPod/umbrella/earrings/etc because they believe it is sufficient to increase their level of protection - when in reality it does nothing.

It's like worrying about whether or not to wear kneepads and a helmet to protect yourself from speeding trains. The real solution is to just not walk on the tracks when one is coming!

READ: More Weather Myths | Weather Library Home

Storm chaser and photographer Dan Robinson
About the Author: Dan Robinson has been a storm chaser, photographer and cameraman for 30 years. His career has involved traveling around the country covering the most extreme weather on the planet including tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, floods and winter storms. Dan has been extensively published in newspapers, magazines, web articles and more, and has both supplied footage for and appeared in numerous television productions and newscasts. He has also been involved in the research community, providing material for published scientific journal papers on tornadoes and lightning. Dan also holds an active Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA (Part 107) for commercial drone operation.

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See Also:

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

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