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Name: Monica
Status: other
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Question:
If I were driving in my car, and my car was hit by lightning, how long should I wait before attempting to leave the car safely (i.e., how long does it take for the electricity to dissipate, so I can leave my car without fear of being electrocuted/shocked?)



Replies:
Monica,

You could leave your car almost immediately. There is no residual energy in or around your car after a lightning strike to it. The energy is dissipated very quickly to whatever electrical ground is nearby.

However, I would caution you that lightning may strike again in the same vicinity, often within 10 seconds to one minute. So, if you can, I would suggest driving to a safe location before exiting your car. If your car can not be driven, wait inside your car (without touching anything that is metal) until the storm and all likelihood of lightning has ended. Then you can get out of your car.

David R. Cook
Climate Research Section
Environmental Science Division
Argonne National Laboratory


Dear Monica,

The electricity from that lightning bolt is mostly dissipated immediately, though some relatively small amount could be stored by the metal car body which is insulated from the ground by the rubber tires. So a kind of capacitor is formed where the two electrodes are the metal car body and the ground,

I would expect that capacitor to discharge rather quickly, especially if it is raining.

Probably a much bigger danger is the possibility of another lightning bolt. I think you would be well-advised to stay in your car, which is a relatively safe place during a thunderstorm, until the center of the storm has moved away. The danger is probably not large, but it is better to be safe than fried!

Best, Dick Plano, Professor of Physics emeritus, Rutgers University


I think the charge would go away in seconds. But there might be another lightning strike, and common sense would say stay in the car for a while.

Steve Ross



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