If you skydive through a thunderstorm, could you be struck?

20 November 2011

Question

Chris,

Great show, been listening from NY, CT, Brazil & MD for years! Awesome!

If you skydived through a large cumulonimbus/active storm cloud with lightning, would you be struck? What would happen if you happen to pass through the cloud and 'intercepted' a lightening strike?

Thank you so much! I would tremendously appreciate a notice if you intend on answering the questions - wouldn't miss it!!! 

Best Regards,

Andrew

Answer

Andrew - Well, I was wondering. If you were to sky dive through an active storm cloud, assuming that lightning strikes were occurring, are you at particular risk of getting struck? And if you were to be struck, would the result be the same as if you were standing on the ground?

Chris - Do you partake in such dangerous pursuits, Andrew?

Andrew - I do not. Especially not through storm clouds.

Dave - It's probably very wise. If you're in a storm cloud, then essentially you're in something which isn't a very good conductor, it's mostly air, although you also get a bit of water in there with raindrops. If you're there, especially if you've got a wet parachute above your head, then you're actually acting there a bit like a big long wire which means that if a lightning bolt is going to occur somewhere in that broad area, it's probably going to find a shortcut, essentially down your parachute through the ropes, down through you and out your feet.

Certainly, planes get hit by lightning quite a lot, but they are made out of aluminium. That's a very good conductor - acts a bit like a lightning conductor. But I think skydiving, you would probably have similar effects as if you've been hit on the ground, possibly slightly less intense but I think it would be pretty messy.

Chris - Ouch! Dave, can I ask you a question which has occurred to me and thanks for the question, Andrew. It was very good. If you're in a lake and it's freshwater, because you're a bag of salt as a living being, and you're therefore a better conductor than poorly ionised freshwater, are you more likely to come off worse if the lightning hits the lake than if you were doing sort of swimming around in the sea?

Dave - Yes, very definitely. Certainly, there's lots of instructions if you live in a place with a lot of lightning strikes. As soon there's any possibility of lightning, get out of the water because lightning will hit the water and then that current is going to spread out from the lightning and if you're anywhere near that, that current is going to go through you rather than through the water, and you'll get a fairly serious shock. If you were in salt water you would get a shock, but the current wouldn't concentrate through you as salt water is a better conductor than you are.

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