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Q: lightning and two-way radios ( No Answer,   8 Comments )
Subject: lightning and two-way radios
Category: Science > Earth Sciences
Asked by: lightningbrent-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 22 Jul 2004 08:58 PDT
Expires: 21 Aug 2004 08:58 PDT
Question ID: 377633
I sent a question the other day - asking about any connection between
radio transmission and lightning.  Specifically, here at our
wilderness program, there is a myth about "don't use the radio or
phone during lightning drills", because it attracts lightning.  I say
it sounds ridiculous - that the radio transmitting has zero influence
on lightning grounding at (my) particular spot.
Can you prove me right?

Request for Question Clarification by hedgie-ga on 22 Jul 2004 11:27 PDT

You are right. There is no physical mechanism by which that could 
happen. But to 'prove it' for $2, that's just as  impossible.
In general, research to prove that something does not exist is
more dificult then finding something...

Clarification of Question by lightningbrent-ga on 22 Jul 2004 11:53 PDT
Folks, I thought I could pay $2 for exactly what I'm getting.  I
certainly don't want anybody developing a thesis over it.   I just
wanted this kind of Informed opinion, vs. the reactive and hyperbolic
opinion rife at the officeplace.
Thank you very sincerely.

Request for Question Clarification by hedgie-ga on 23 Jul 2004 03:30 PDT
Not exactly altruistic,
it just does not feel right to tak money for an opinion,
when  you got real 5 star answer 
From: ulu-ga on 22 Jul 2004 22:19 PDT 

One more danger: static , amplified by phone,
may distract you :-)
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: lightning and two-way radios
From: neilzero-ga on 22 Jul 2004 09:49 PDT
$2 is probably not enough to attract a researcher. One way radios also
attract lightning if they have an antenna that sticks up higher than
the top of your head. Cellphones and portable phones usually have very
short antennas and thus only increase your hazzard slightly.
 You are correct transmitting does not attract lightening, but all
kinds of elevated electrical conductors do attract lightening so you
should not be closer than about one meter from such a device or
conductive structure when you hear thunder, even at a considerable
 Lightening  "Drill" suggests a fire drill. Did I change the meaning
of your question by omitting the word "drill" ?  Neil
Subject: Re: lightning and two-way radios
From: purkinje-ga on 22 Jul 2004 09:56 PDT
I agree that it is not very likely that the radio will make any
difference. The signal itself from the radio will make NO difference
for sure, but as neilzero says, an elevated electrical circuit could
make a differene. But if an electrical current can arc across
thousands of feet of air, a little electrical circuit is going to make
no difference. It's like people who believe that getting in a car
during a lightning storm is safe because of the rubber tires. Well, if
the lightning just jumped across 10 miles of non-conducting air, I
think it could jump across 6 inches of rubber. The reason the car is
safe is that the current can more easily pass through the metal of the
car, thus bypassing the person sitting inside since they have a higher
Subject: Re: lightning and two-way radios
From: neilzero-ga on 22 Jul 2004 10:17 PDT
Phone line networks sometimes cover a hundred square miles, so there
is a slight chance the lightening will go to ground though you even
thhough the network was hit a mile away. Some radio transmitters have
antennas that reach more than 100 meters vertically, antennas are
electrical conductors, so you are comparitively unsafe touching
anything connected by wire to the transmitter. I agree the risk is
likely lower by the minute than driving 5 miles per hour over the
speed limit.   Neil
Subject: Re: lightning and two-way radios
From: lightningbrent-ga on 22 Jul 2004 11:13 PDT
Lightning Drill is getting the kids under tarps and on foam pads out
in the Utah hills.  I don't think it effects your answer.  Thanks.
I am under the belief that lightning moves both down from clouds but
also up from the ground - the conducting antenna adds, perhaps, 4
inches of height - no significant difference.

Thank you two for your answers.  Re: $2 for researchers - you don't
get it?  You just being altruistic?
Subject: Re: lightning and two-way radios
From: omnivorous-ga on 22 Jul 2004 12:03 PDT
LB --

The proscriptions against using a radio or telephone during electrical
storms is probably more due to damage or personal injury than the
"attraction" of lightning.

With an active, open circuit on a radio, even stray branches of
electricity from a nearby strike might damage the radio.  With the
swith "off" it's much more difficult for those stray branches to jump
the gap of a switch.

Similarly with the telephone system, though in this case it's the
potential for a shock from a nearby strike carrying electricity to the

Best regards,

Subject: Re: lightning and two-way radios
From: ulu-ga on 22 Jul 2004 22:19 PDT
Ionizing radiation is likely to slightly increase the chance of
lightning striking that location.  I'm guessing the amount generated
by hand-held devices is unlikely to be little more than a few inches
difference.  That technique (electrical or radioactive) is used by
some lightning rods.

Early streamer emission (ESE) lightning conductors

Locations and numbers of lightning casualties 
26.8% Open field, ballparks, playgrounds, etc. 
13.7% Under trees 
 8.1% Water related, fishing, boating, swimming, etc. 
 2.4% Telephone-related 
 0.7% Radios, transmitters, antennas, etc. 
(I would suspect that "Telephone-related" is for wired residential phones)
2. IF OUTDOORS...Avoid water. Avoid the high ground. Avoid open
spaces. Avoid all metal objects including electric wires, fences,
machinery, motors, power tools, etc. Unsafe places include underneath
canopies, small picnic or rain shelters, or near trees. Where
possible, find shelter in a substantial building or in a fully
enclosed metal vehicle such as a car, truck or a van with the windows
completely shut. If lightning is striking nearby when you are outside,
you should:
A. Crouch down. Put feet together. Place hands over ears to minimize
hearing damage from thunder.
B. Avoid proximity (minimum of 15 ft.) to other people.
Subject: Random comments
From: ulu-ga on 24 Jul 2004 03:44 PDT
Thanks Hedgie for the compliment.

(Discussion about lightning drills)

Also, they probably want you to concentrate on the weather and
situation.  The radios/phones should probably be used for emergencies
only during the drill.

Something to keep in mind, metal objects are often melted from a lightning strike.

Just to add some more controversy.  (Looks like ESE's are hotly debated)

The Straight Dope: Do lightning rods really work?

Does a tongue piercing attract lightning?

If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of
lightning, hold up a 1-iron.  Not even God can hit a 1-iron.
- Lee Trevino

Seriously, about 5% of the lightning deaths are golf related so the
above is not recommended.

Lightning does what it wants to do.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't
take precautions.

Subject: Re: lightning and two-way radios
From: omnivorous-ga on 24 Jul 2004 06:15 PDT
> If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of
> lightning, hold up a 1-iron.  Not even God can hit a 1-iron.
> - Lee Trevino

And, of course, the irony of Trevino's comment is that he's been
struck by lightning twice, including 1975 during a major golf
tournament, the Western Open:

Best regards,


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