By Dr. Mercola
If you’re ever caught outdoors with a thunderstorm approaching, what should you do to stay safe? Obviously, you should head indoors if that’s at all possible, but if not, please, resist the temptation to hide under a tree.
Trees are typically the tallest objects around, making them perfect targets for lightning. If you’re near one, the lightning can jump over to you and follow your body on its way to the ground.
That said, standing out in the open isn’t a smart move either, as then you’ll be the tallest object. So what should you do? Check out the video above for a succinct explanation of what to do to improve your chances of surviving a lightning strike…
Your Car Is a Safe Option as It Is a Faraday Cage
Have you ever heard of a Faraday suit or Faraday cage? This is what some electrical linemen wear so they can work on live, high-voltage power lines without being electrocuted. Named after Michael Faraday, a scientist who invented them in the 1800s, the suit or cage is made of a mesh metal or other conducting material, which allows the electrical current to pass through the conducting material without reaching whatever is inside. It moves the current around you rather than through you.
Your car is actually a Faraday cage, which is why you’re safe inside one if lightning strikes (it’s not actually the rubber wheels that protect you, as often believed, it’s the effect of the Faraday cage). So, if you can make it to your vehicle, do. If not, you’ll want to crouch low to the ground with your feet close together, but avoid lying on the ground.
Crouch Down but Don’t Lie Down
Why? As the video describes, if you lie down an electrical current passing through the ground from a nearby lightning strike can pass right through your body. A better option is to crouch low, so you’re not the tallest object around, and at the same time keep your feet close together.
This way, a minimal surface of your body is touching the ground and, if a lightning strike does come through you off the ground, the current will most likely travel up one leg and down the other, missing vital organs like your heart.
Where Are You Most Likely to Be Struck by Lightning?
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not on the golf course, although it is while you’re engaged in leisure activities. According to a recent analysis by the National Weather Service, there were 238 people killed by lightning in the US from 2006 to 2012, and two-thirds of them occurred in people enjoying outdoor leisure activities.1
As you might suspect, the deaths spiked during the summer months of June, July and August, and on Saturdays and Sundays, when people are most likely to be outdoors.
The report noted that in many of the cases, the victims were either headed to safety, or just steps away from safety, when the fatal strike occurred, so if you think a storm is approaching, don’t wait to seek shelter! Interestingly, golf didn’t even make the top 10 list of leisure activities associated with the most lightning deaths (it was #12). The top locations revealed by the analysis were:
- Farming or ranching
- Riding a bike, motorcycle or ATV
- Social gathering
- Yard work
- Walking to/from home
A Lightning Risk for Hikers and Frequent Fliers…
Even nearby lightning strikes may pose a threat when you’re outdoors, as they may create intense, local magnetic fields, which in turn may induce dangerous electrical currents in the human body. In theory, these currents may even cause life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and tissue damage without leaving external marks, according to a study in The Lancet.2 This phenomenon may explain why some hikers are found dead in the wilderness with no apparent cause of death.
Lightning doesn’t only pose a danger when you’re on the ground. When flying in an airplane, a lightning strike will generally pass along the aircraft’s aluminum skin, so most of the current will remain on the exterior of the plane. The electrical system and fuel systems are carefully designed to be shielded from lightning strikes as well.
However, passengers on planes flying near or through lightning storms could be exposed to harmful levels of radiation. Lightning discharges, or a related phenomena known as terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, can jolt airline passengers with a level of radiation equivalent to 400 chest X-rays.3 I personally use astaxanthin to help protect me from radiation damage when I am flying. This is more important in the daytime as the background radiation is typically far lower when flying at night. However, it does have to be taken for three weeks to build up levels to provide this level of protection.
Lightning Is Beneficial, Too
Many aren’t aware that the Earth depends on lightning strikes to maintain its electrical balance. The National Severe Storms Laboratory explains:4
“...lightning helps the Earth maintain electrical balance. The Earth is recharged by thunderstorms. The Earth's surface and the atmosphere conduct electricity easily—the Earth is charged negatively and the atmosphere, positively. There is always a steady current of electrons flowing upwards from the entire surface of the Earth. Thunderstorms help transfer the negative charges back to Earth (lightning is generally negatively charged). Without thunderstorms and lightning, the earth-atmosphere electrical balance would disappear in 5 minutes. Lightning also makes ozone-producing chemicals.”
It is the same electrons that come from lightning that can also help to boost your immune function when you absorb them from the Earth. Dr. James Oschman, an expert in the field of energy medicine, said:
"The Earth's surface is electrically charged and can push electrons up in your body. So from the top of your head to the Earth, there is a potential, which you don't feel because it doesn't cause any particular current to flow, even though it can be a couple of hundred volts. If it did, it would give you a shock.
What happens is when the weather changes is that the potential can go up enormously. It can go from a hundred volts per meter to 10,000 volts per meter. That's pre lightning. We're talking about the potential that causes lightning to come to the earth. That voltage is well known and well understood… This is the potential between the surface of the earth and the ionosphere, hundreds of miles up, which is very electrically active; charged by the solar wind, the charged particles that come from the sun.
Those charged particles eventually reach the Earth by lightning and electrify the entire surface of the Earth so that anywhere you touch the Earth, there are electrons. They come originally from the sun, to the ionosphere, to the earth. There is no lightning happening right here right now but somewhere there is lightning, a constant current flow from the ionosphere to the earth. Those are the electrons that your body needs for your immune system to function properly."
How to Take Advantage of the Earth’s Lightning-Induced Electrical Charge
You obviously don’t want to take a chance being struck by lightning, but you do want to benefit from the natural flow of energy that lightning provides to the Earth. The Earth is struck by lightning thousands of times each minute, primarily around the equator. Subsequently, the Earth carries an enormous negative charge. It's always electron-rich and can serve as a powerful and abundant supply of antioxidant free-radical-busting electrons.
Your body is finely tuned to "work" with the Earth in the sense that there's a constant flow of energy between your body and the Earth. When you put your feet on the ground, you absorb large amounts of negative electrons through the soles of your feet.
When you wear rubber- or plastic-soled shoes, however, you are effectively shielding yourself from this beneficial influx of electrons from the Earth. For optimal immune function, you want these electrons to enter your body, so make sure you take your shoes off now and then, or alternatively, use a grounding pad to take advantage of these free electrons from the Earth.