Although it’s winter, many parts of the United States have been seeing some nasty thunderstorms lately. To make things worse, many people are traveling during these storms for the holidays. When driving through a thunderstorm, people feel some relief because of the myth that “cars are the safest place to be during a thunderstorm.”
Part of the reason that this myth would seem correct is that cars have rubber tires, and rubber cannot conduct electricity very well. Therefore, lightning would not be attracted to a car. However, that is not the case.
Lightning is the product of buildup and discharge of electrical energy during cloud formation . Clouds are formed of water vapor molecules, which can affect the electrical charges in clouds. When the ground or opposing clouds have a corresponding charge, it creates an environment that allows the clouds to discharge.
When lightning strikes, the surrounding air can reach up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (hotter than the surface of the sun), and has enough electrical energy to power an average home for a week . No wonder people would like to steer clear of thunderstorms.
With all that energy, several inches of rubber is no match for a lightning strike, yet a person can still stay safe in a car with the windows up. The reason is cars are made of metal.
Although metal is a better conductor than rubber, it redirects the electrical energy from a lightning strike. Lightning strikes to the ground start from the bottom up. An invisible channel starts from the cloud and makes its way to the ground. Once it nears the ground, a surge of electrical energy rides the channel back up into the cloud, and produces visible light.
Hence, the car acts like lightning rods used for buildings. If lightning strikes the car (assuming the roof is made out of metal), the electricity will channel outside the metal body and redirect towards the ground. It will not affect the contents in the car directly . A person may be unscathed, yet the car will most likely receive some damage, and in some cases ignite fires.
Cars are pretty safe during a thunderstorm, yet the safest place to be is in a large and enclosed building.
 “Facts About Lightning.” National Weather Service. NOAA, 16 May 2001. Web. 22 Dec. 2013.
 “Lightning and Cars.” NWS Lightning Safety: Cars. NOAA, n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2013.