One of the oldest pieces of folk wisdom holds that lightning never strikes the same spot twice, a falsehood demonstrated by the Empire State Building – hit more than 20 times each year – and by former U.S. Park Ranger Roy Sullivan, who in 71 years took a bolt to the noggin seven times.
Tips to avoid being struck by lightning are as common as hiccup remedies or cures for warts, and often just as useless.
This year, bolts have killed 14 people nationwide – the latest a North Carolina motorcyclist who had stopped to put on rain gear Saturday near Mount Mitchell.
In this season of continual thunderstorms – another of which is expected Tuesday evening – we offer a little lightning myth-busting, with apologies to the Discovery Channel duo.
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Some of these tips are true. Others, not so much.
Go under a tree
Hiding under trees is the second-highest cause of lightning-related death, according to the National Weather Service. Get thee indoors.
Get down on the ground
Lying down might actually increase your chance of touching a deadly ground current. Run – don’t walk – to the nearest building.
Stay off the phone
This one’s true, at least for landlines.
A powerful bolt of electricity will follow any kind of wiring, and a phone on a cord can lead lightning straight to your ear. MythBusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage confirmed this by rigging a dummy made of ballistics gel with a telephone and zapping his homemade house with 300,000 volts. The blast blew out the dummy’s heart monitor. Dead dummy.
But a mobile phone? Zeus and his thunderbolts can’t touch you. Chat away.
Unplug your electronics
Nicolle Morock, who writes a meteorology blog for The N&O called Clear Weather (nando.com/clearweather), told me that most surge protectors aren’t built to withstand a bolt of lightning. A strike at a family member’s house last week proved this. “It came through a cable line outside,” she said. “It fried the TV, the cable router and some of the smaller appliances.”
Stay out of the bathtub
This one’s iffy.
The conventional wisdom on avoiding tubs, showers and sinks inside is slightly outdated, Morock told me, because so many houses these days have PVC pipes rather than metal plumbing that can carry electricity. So if you’re reading a book in the tub of a newer house with plastic pipes and a bolt hits the ground next door, you’re probably OK.
Rubber will save you
A car is one of the safest spots in a thunderstorm, as long as it’s a hardtop with the windows closed. But the security isn’t because of the tires. Morock explained that a car’s metal roof has a smooth surface that will keep lightning moving down to the ground. Tires don’t really act as a ground. So don’t go splashing around in your sneakers thinking you’ll be safe.
There are several other tips to keep in mind:
▪ You will not be shocked by touching a person struck by lightning.
▪ Headphones do not attract bolts.
▪ Wearing silk will not protect you in an electrical storm.
▪ And lastly, if you’re on a golf course, offer some sacrifice to the Greek gods. Zeus hates golfers.