should you stay in your car?

Mauricio Saldivar Weathered Argentina 8 min
Brazil lightning truck
The images that have been released these days have destroyed a minibus that was struck by lightning in Brazil. What’s going on ? Are cars really safe from lightning?

The pictures are instructive: a van that was literally destroyed by lightning that struck the antenna on the roof it turns on the electrical circuits in the back of the car and the entire interior.

Many people were surprised by these images If it is really safe to stay inside a vehicle during thunderstorms with intense electrical activity, as meteorologists and communicators have advised for years.

Let’s see what science says.

Faraday’s cage

Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was an English scientist. famous for his contributions to electromagnetism and electrochemistry, as well as for discovering electromagnetic induction and electrolysis.

Among his other contributions, to quote Faraday’s cage, which one day left you hidden in the elevator, it allowed you to cook in the microwave, or maybe it saved you from lightning.

Faraday cage and Tesla coil
A man in a Faraday cage tests the effectiveness of a Tesla coil, named after its inventor, Nikola Tesla, who patented it in 1891, against high-voltage discharges.

We call it Faraday’s cage metal structure resistant to electric or electromagnetic fields; a structure that prevents their exit and entry, thus protecting those inside or outside the cage. For this reason, when entering the elevator cell phones cannot receive signals from outside and interfere with communication.

A microwave oven is a Faraday cage because the metal walls of the oven reflect and contain the electromagnetic field generated by the device. which is only absorbed by what is inside the oven and needs to be heated: food.

An airplane, like a car, works like a Faraday cage.

airplanes and lightning

On average, the aircraft is struck by lightning at least once a year or once every 1000 flight hours; however, they rarely have a significant impact on the safe and continuous operation of the aircraft. Airplanes today are well equipped to minimize the risk of accidents caused by lightning.

Miley Cyrus
On March 23, 2022, the plane carrying Miley Cyrus was struck by lightning on her way to Paraguay and had to make an emergency landing.

Boeing is one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers points out that most of the exteriors of “old” airplanes are metal structures thick enough to withstand lightning strikes, while modern airplanes are made of lightweight carbon composite covered with a thin layer of copper that acts as a Faraday cage. Either way, they provide essential lightning protection while protecting the interior of the aircraft. Although metal sheathing does not prevent all electromagnetic lightning energy from entering electrical wiring, it does. it can keep this energy at a safe level.

Cars and Lightning

No…it’s not the tires that protect us from lightning. As with airplanes, the metal body of the car acts as a Faraday cage and allows lightning to pass from outside the body to the ground, without injuring the driver and passengers.

Cars are safe during lightning strikes as shown in the video below:

The van was struck by lightning at least four times. However, none of the occupants were injured, only the electrical circuits were damaged.

If you are looking for shelter from the storm, the car provides adequate protection; As soon as you get into the car and are surprised by a storm on the road, you should follow the same recommendations: try not to touch metal parts, close the windows and turn off the radio. If you stand, do so away from guardrails, wire fences, metal fences or power lines. turn off the radio and close the windows.

And if you want to get out of the car after a lightning strike, it is advisable to wait a few minutes until the metal surface, “charged” with electricity by lightning, it can discharge to the ground. If we don’t take this precaution, we could be the ones walking out on the ground, closing the loop and suffering the consequences of a mild or severe runoff.

So…why did lightning destroy this van?

At the beginning of this post, we shared the images and video of the van that was struck by lightning Brazil, which has gone viral these days, raising questions about the effectiveness of lightning protection in a car.

The incident took place on January 20, 2023 in the south of Brazil, and the mechanic who saved the car told the G1 news portal that “The lightning struck the antenna and went through the car’s electrical system, shorting it, igniting it and melting the panel.”

The mechanic also said that the driver, who did not want to be named, immediately got out of the car and was not injured. “He thought quickly and quickly got out of the car, locked the doors to prevent the fire from spreading,” explained the mechanic.

During a car holiday, passengers are very unlikely to be injured…. however, the car generally suffers material damage: burns or dents in the body, often flat tires, and of course the car’s electrical components often do not work.

The car remains a lightning shelter.

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