The current heatwave has brought the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK and when that happens, thunderstorms and lightning usually follow. In fact, the Met Office has just issued a Yellow National Severe Weather Warning for thunderstorms and long spells of rain across much of the UK. The yellow warning predicts potential delays to train and bus services and a small chance that homes and businesses could be damaged. With this in mind, we take a look at how to stay safe during the extreme weather.
Yellow weather warning issued ⚠️July 19, 2022
Thunderstorms across parts of northern England and southern Scotland
Tuesday 1600 – 2000
Don’t worry if you’re stuck in the storm while driving, a car can be really safe place to be.
Yes You can still be struck by lightning in your car, but you're protected from it. Contrary to popular belief, the reason for this isn't because cars have rubber tyre that insulate you from the ground.
According to the USA's National Lightning Safety Institute:
‘Rubber tyres provide no safety from lightning. After all, lightning has travelled for miles through the sky: four or five inches of rubber is no insulation whatsoever.’
The reason you're protected in a car during a lightning storm is actually because the car acts like a Faraday cage.
Electrical currents are generally carried on the outside of conducting objects. Anything inside the conducting object (the cage) will be protected from the external electrical current. The same holds true for lightning when it strikes metal vehicles – the outer surface carries most of the electricity. Faraday cages are named after the English scientist Michael Faraday, who first observed the effect in 1836.
As long as your car is of conventional metal construction, you can be. Here's how to stay protected in your car during a lightning storm.
A complete metal shield is necessary for full protection – so if you're stranded during a lightning storm, take cover inside a car with the windows wound up.
The USA's National Lightning Safety Institute also recommends pulling off to the side of the road in a safe manner, turning on the hazard lights, turning off the engine, putting your hands in your lap, and waiting out the storm. This is probably only required in the most extreme conditions.
‘Ninety per cent of lightning discharges go from cloud to cloud or between parts of the same cloud, never actually reaching the Earth [and] most of the discharges that do strike the ground cause little or no damage or harm.’
Back in the day, the Top Gear team created an experiment to find out what it would be like if you were struck by lightning while in your car. Richard Hammond was hit by 600,000 volts of nature’s finest while sitting in a Volkswagen Golf. Watch the video to see exactly what happened…