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Tires not as protective against lightning as you may think

Wednesday, July 14th 2021, 2:07 pm - It's also not possible to 'outrun' lightning, experts say.

In June 2019, a 45-year-old motorcyclist was killed in Florida after being struck by lightning. It's a rare occurence - statistics suggest about a dozen motorcyclists have died this way since 2006 - but it does happen.

Experts peg the odds of being hit by lightning, in any circumstance, at about 1 in 500,000 and it's important to point out that not all of the motorcyclists who have been hit were riding at the time. Some victims were either leaning on their stationary bikes or standing near them when the incident occurred.

RUBBER TIRES NOT AS PROTECTIVE AS YOU MAY THINK

While rubber is an electrical insulator, it's a misconception that rubber tires protect against lightning.

“There’s still the myth that rubber tires protect you,” John Jensenius of the National Lightning Safety Council told the Daytona Beach News-Journal in 2019.

“They do nothing to protect you.”

While the tires won't help, a hard roof on a vehicle will. That's because the because metal keeps the electrical charge in the outer shell and away from the interior.

"If struck, the electrical charge will pass around the metal shell of a hard-topped vehicle and into the ground, often passing through or over the tires," Jensenius said.

If people can't get inside a substantial building, we recommend that they get inside a hard-topped metal vehicle with the windows rolled up."

Experts say rubber-soled shoes aren't likely to provide any protection, because they're often too thin to guard against a powerful strike.

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN'T HIDE

Jensenius says it's impossible to "out-run" lightning, even when travelling at high speeds.

"The time it takes to go from the cloud base to the ground is only a small fraction of a second," Jensenius said. "During this time, anything traveling at highway speeds is virtually standing still with respect to the lightning."

Thumbnail image courtesy: NOAA/[Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/PkHsrwNOfBE))

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