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Weather Talk: Is a car safe in a thunderstorm?

Is a car a safe place to be in a thunderstorm? Most of the time, it is. At least, it is a pretty safe place to be.

But the reason for this has nothing to do with the tires. A lightning bolt connects opposite charge between cloud and ground through thousands of feet of air. A half inch of synthetic rubber (belted with steel as well) is not going to stop it.

Rather, if a car becomes the path for lightning, the current will tend to flow around the outside of the vehicle, using whatever conducting material is available, leaving the inside mostly unaffected.

Often, lightning strikes a car with no effect other than a bang. Other times, the entire electrical system of the car is ruined. Although it is rare, people inside a car can be electrocuted. But given the choice of riding out an electric storm inside a car or out in the open, a car is the much safer option.

John Wheeler

John was born in Baton Rouge, LA, and grew up near Birmingham, Alabama. As a teenager, his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and later to a small town in northeast Iowa. John traces his early interest in weather to the difference in climate between Alabama and Wisconsin. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in meteorology. Like any meteorologist, John is intrigued by extremes of weather, especially arctic air outbreaks and winter storms.  John has been known to say he prefers his summers to be hot but in winter, he prefers the cold.  When away from work, John enjoys long-distance running and reading.  John has been a meteorologist at WDAY since May of 1985.

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