Are Umbrellas Safe in Lightning?

If you are anything like most people, you will probably agree that getting caught out in a thunderstorm is not fun. Thankfully, using an umbrella can greatly minimize the chances of you getting soaked by the rain. Thus, umbrellas are very popular, particularly in regions that experience a lot of rain; but are they safe in lightning?

Umbrellas are not safe in lightning. Because lightning is always looking to find the shortest path to the ground, umbrellas can make you a target due to increasing your height. Always avoid high places during lightning storms to lessen the chance of being struck.

This article will discuss how exactly lightning works and what it is that attracts or deters it. We will also be examining the signs and indicators to look out for when participating in outdoor events. Lastly, we will go over some important safety precautions to exercise whenever you happen to find yourself stuck in a storm to remain safe.

man holding umbrella in a storm
Brian Jackson@123rf.com

How Lightning Attraction Works

Lightning is a naturally occurring phenomenon wherein electrically charged particles located within a stormcloud react with particles in the ground and/or atmosphere to create what is known as a “lightning bolt.”

A lightning bolt is an extremely powerful manifestation of electric energy, which can be visibly observed. Lighting is always accompanied by thunder, a loud, roaring sound that can be heard and felt.

Inside of a thundercloud, positive and negatively charged ions begin to separate, disrupting their natural harmony. Positively charged ions drift upwards within the cloud, and negatively charged ions settle near the bottom. When the cloud passes over a region of the ground with a strong positive charge, the negative ions within the cloud and the positive ground charge may meet if the difference is great enough, causing a lightning bolt to form.

The positive ground charge will travel through the tallest object in a given area to meet the cloud, as this is essentially the shortest distance between the two charges. This is why high places are extremely dangerous during a lightning storm. This type of lightning strike is known as “cloud to ground.”

Lightning bolts can also form within the confines of a single storm cloud (intra-cloud lightning), or between two clouds (cloud to cloud lighting), as opposed to between the cloud and ground, but for much the same reasons.

Conductive Materials

A commonly perpetuated myth about lightning strikes is that they may be attracted to a person by items such as metal buttons, eyeglass frames, or earrings. 

The truth is that although metal is a conductive material—meaning that it allows electricity to flow through it with low inhibition when compared to more resistant materials, such as rubber—lightning will not target small metal objects. Still, instead of tall structures, for the reasons previously explained.

Static Electricity: A Sign of a Highly Charged Atmosphere

The most prominent sign of a positively charged environment is the felt presence of static electricity. This may be indicated by the hair on your arms or head standing up. The presence of static electricity signifies that you are at an increased risk of being struck by lightning.

If you are outdoors and begin to notice this occurring, seek shelter indoors as soon as possible. 

Lightning Strike Effects

According to statistics from the National Weather Service, only 10% of lightning strike incidents result in death; however, most survivors of lightning strikes do sustain permanent damage as a result. Some of these effects include:

  • Severe burns
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Heartbeat damage and irregularity

Each year, approximately 49 people are killed by lightning strikes in the United States alone, this is an incredibly high number. Many of these deaths could be easily preventable with a little bit of understanding and precaution.

When Is It Okay to Use an Umbrella?

Although it is not safe to use an umbrella during a lightning storm, it is permissible to use an umbrella to stay dry when there is rain present in the absence of thunder and lightning. 

Umbrellas can be especially advantageous for anyone who commutes to work or school and must walk some distance to reach bus or train stations from their home.

If you are looking to purchase a quality umbrella that will keep you dry in even the hardest of downpours, the Repel Umbrella on Amazon will do just that. This product is completely waterproof, sleek, and compact, so it goes away easily, making it incredibly convenient to keep on your person.

A better option for staying dry while also ensuring safety is a quality rain jacket. This unisex Leathercraft Raincoat on Amazon is sure to get the job done.

Safety Precautions During Lightning Storms

The main thing to keep in mind during a lightning storm is to avoid tall objects and high places at all costs. Many people instinctively seek shelter under tall trees during rainstorms. This is a bad idea as it greatly increases your chance of being struck by lightning. Always consider that it is far better to be wet than to be hurt or killed.

If you are caught in a lightning storm and have nowhere to retreat, the best thing to do is crouch down as low as possible and ball up to make yourself a lower target.

It is generally safe to be inside a vehicle during a lightning storm, and you are encouraged to remain inside your vehicle and not attempt to flee it.

The safest place of all, however, is inside your home. This is why it is recommended that you check the local weather forecast before planning any outdoor events and never go out during a lightning storm.

Events to Avoid During Lightning

Due to the openness and involvement of heights or high places, certain events or social outings can be particularly dangerous during lightning storms and should be strictly avoided.

Bleachers at sporting events, such as football and baseball games, are a common target of lightning strikes; evacuate them immediately at the first sign of lightning or thunder.

Another dangerous event to partake in during lightning storms is golf. Due to the wide-open landscapes involved with golf, a player may become the target of a lightning strike, as they are oftentimes likely to be the tallest object in the general area.

Conclusion

In this article, we set out to determine if it was, in fact, safe to use an umbrella during a lightning storm. The answer is no; it is not safe. The reason is that lightning will always strike the tallest target in a given environment, and holding up an umbrella makes you a taller target.

Suppose you are outdoors and become aware of thunder or lightning in the vicinity, retreat to a safe location away from tall objects as soon as possible. Never attempt to seek shelter under trees or towers to avoid getting wet, because as the old saying goes, it is better to be safe than sorry.

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