So Not An Expert

Lightning and Umbrellas: Is it Safe to Use an Umbrella in a Storm?

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Is this really safe?

The week's wet and crazy weather brought out the loco(a) in lots of people, and produced a pretty touchy weather-related question:

Are umbrellas dangerous when lightning is present?
 
I was screamed at (and I mean SCREAMED AT) during a recent storm by not one but two of my peers, other mothers whose children swim on my kids' summer swim team. My sin? Carrying an umbrella.

One minute apart, each woman yelled exactly the same thing:

PUT THAT UMBRELLA DOWN!!!!.

And did I mention they didn't say it nicely?

OK, last time I checked I was a grown woman with a mind of her own. Somewhere along the line (I'm not sure when), I made the fully conscious decision that using an umbrella during a thunderstorm was perfectly safe (a debunked myth), so I responded to the second yeller's paranoid command with:

Oh, I don't believe in that.

To which she angrily spat,

Do you really want to take a chance?

Besides being shocked by this woman's blatant rudeness (and wanting to shove my umbrella up her you know what), I felt something a little unfamiliar...I began to second guess myself. (My father raised us to make a decision and never look back, so I rarely do.) But, this got me thinking...was I endangering myself, the people around me, the children?

Here I was at the door of a bus loaded with swimmers returning from a canceled (rained out) swim meet, standing beneath a tree 80 feet tall, near two pools, with an golf umbrella made of plastic composite material (not metal) grounded by a rubber handle and the rubber soles of my sandals.

Surely lightning, were it to strike, would hit something other than my umbrella...like the tallest thing around...like that tree, right?

Thank goodness for google, because being the non-expert I am, that's exactly where I turned upon returning home. Turns out I was in the right. (Isn't it always the loud-mouthed people who seem to assume the worst in everyone else, who think they know more than anyone else, who talk before they think who are wrong more often than not?)

Dr. Richard Orville, director of the Cooperative Institute for Applied Meteorological Studies at Texas A&M University, says:

It's more dangerous with an umbrella than without it, but the increase of danger is very, very slight," he said.

The umbrella increases a person's height by 2 or 3 feet, he said, but still the chance of getting struck by lightning because of an umbrella is a small one. "I use an umbrella," he added.


According to Dan Robinson, Storm Highway Editor/Cameraman:

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What Willis Tower looks like next to a thunderstorm


For all intents and purposes, nothing 'attracts' lightning. Lightning occurs on too large of a scale to be influenced by small objects on the ground, including metal objects....Visualize your 30-foot house,  your 3-foot umbrella, or your 1/2" earring next to a 55,000 feet high and 15 miles in diameter, and you can begin to see the relative insignificance of objects on the ground when it comes to a lightning discharge.


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"Small metal objects will not attract a lightning channel that is further away than a distance equal to the object's length. Lightning would have to strike within three feet of this umbrella before it could be 'attracted' to the umbrella." -Dan Robinson
















You know, it's fine. I don't begrudge these women for believing what they believe. I just don't care for the pushing of it on other people. Think about it...what if I were to yell to someone:

Put down that bible! That's the wrong one! You won't go to heaven reading that thing...

...or,

Put down that bottle. You should be breastfeeding that child!

We all have different beliefs, but most often those opinions are best left to ourselves, unless of course they're requested (which in this case they were NOT).

Needless to say, it was somewhat rewarding to see three other wise women holding up umbrellas as I drove away from the opinion pushers that day. I just hope they weren't subjected to the same browbeating.

How do you handle busy bodies and rude people?

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