Why is it a really bad idea to stand under a tree during a thunderstorm? Why is it really the worst place one can choose? This article answers both questions and gives you much more advice.
When your instincts lead you astray
Whenever the weather gets bad, it is our natural instinct to look for shelter. One might think that tall trees with wide crowns standing lonely on a field or a meadow are just perfect spots to find shelter. And this is a serious mistake so many people still make. What you can see in the photos are not tattoos – this is what you look like when you are hit by a lightening.
Why shouldn’t we stand under trees during a thunderstorm?
In fact this is the worst thing you can do. If the tree gets hit, the electric charge will spread all around it. In fact people who looked for shelter under trees make up the second largest group of thunderstorm casualties.
How does lightning work?
Contrary to what it looks like, lighting never hits random spots. It usually ‘targets’ places with specific electric charge. In 90% cases, the clouds are ‘overcharged’ with electrons (experts call it ‘negative charge’). Clouds want to get rid of the electrons but can only do it if they find a spot on the ground with electron deficiency (with positive charge). When they find it and there is not much air resistance, a lightning forms.
Why does lighting hit trees?
Trees are often the tallest objects in a given area and they have got a number of spiky tips. The electric field around such a tip is the strongest and that is why trees make wonderful targets for lighting. Trees don’t conduct electricity as well as people since they are not made of water like people are. So the electricity in the tree can easily ‘jump’ onto you and travel through your body to the ground.
What should we do if we found ourselves in an open space during a thunderstorm?
Standing in an open space, even if far from a tree, also poses some risk. In this case you are the tallest point and you might by struck by lightning just as well. Any metal objects carried by you make the risk even higher. The place to look for shelter is a building or a car. Lying on the ground is not a safe option. If there are no cars or buildings around, you’d better look for a lower spot and squat down.