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Do Tents Attract Lightning (3 Things You Need to Know)

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Statistics show that every year around 49 people are killed as a result of being struck by lightning while hundreds more are injured (view source). But what attracts lightning? Do tents attract lighting? Are you in any danger of being struck by lightning while inside your tent during a thunderstorm? In this article, we’re going to be answering each one of these questions in addition to 3 things you need to know in order to stay safe if you get caught in a thunderstorm while camping.

In short, No, a tent does not attract lightning, it’s the location of your tent that will increase the chance of getting struck by lightning. For example, don’t camp on high ridge tops or near tall trees. Camping in a tent near these things only increases your likelihood of being struck by lightning.

What Makes Lightning Strike the Ground Anyway

Have you ever went to open a door, or grab a grocery cart, only to get a little shock in return? If this ever happened to you, you could basically say that you were struck by lightning! Now, while you weren’t actually struck by lightning, lightning works the exact same way.

When you get a small shock when opening a door, or touching a metal object, this is the result of a build-up of static electricity. This is also why when you bring a balloon close to your hair, your hair starts to stand up on end. The way static electricity works is electrons are moved around mechanically, like someone rubbing two things together. For example, if you drag your shoes across the carpet, extra charge is being scraped off the floor and being collected onto your body. Since the electrons that you’ve collected are constantly trying to leave and find somewhere else to go, when you touch a metal doorknob, or anything that conducts electricity, you see a spark and feel a small shock as a result of the electrons leaving your body.

This same process is what produces lightning. In a thunderstorm, negatively charged particles can build up in a cloud. And since the electrons in the clouds repel each other, the biggest thing to escape to is the ground. This is what we see as lightning. Basically, lightning is just a big spark.

Do Tents with Metal Objects Attract Lighting

The answer to this question is yes, and no. The metal objects on a tent, such as the tent poles, are so small compared to an enormous thunderstorm, that they won’t necessarily attract a lightning strike. However, if a lightning strike were to strike within a few feet from your tent anyway, it is possible that the lighting would jump to the metal pieces since metal conducts electricity.

Will Metal Camping Gear Inside a Tent Attract Lighting

The likelihood of a metal piece of camping gear within your tent attracting a lightning strike is as little as the likelihood of a small metal object on your tent attracting lightning. And while it shouldn’t pose much danger having metal camping gear inside your tent during a thunderstorm, it’s still better to play it safe and remove those objects from your tent than to be sorry later.

Does Lighting Always Hit the Tallest Object

Here’s what www.nssl.noaa.gov has to say:

Never say always! Lightning USUALLY strikes the tallest object. It makes sense that the tallest object is most attractive, because it is the easiest path for the lightning to take.

www.nssl.noaa.gov

However, here is what www.iii.org has to say about lightning only hitting the tallest object:

Lightning is indiscriminate and it can find you anywhere. Lightning may hit the ground instead of a tree, cars instead of nearby telephone poles, and parking lots instead of buildings.

www.iii.org

So does lightning always hit the tallest object? The answer is no, it doesn’t. However, lightning has been known to strike tall objects often. One of the reasons for this is that a lighting bolt’s sole goal is to get in contact with the ground. And since lighting always chooses the path of least resistance, it can a lot of times strike the tallest object near it. This isn’t always the case though since there is a lot of other factors that play into where a lightning bolt strikes, such as the conditions of the air nearby.

Biswajit Basu on Quora explains a little more in-depth on how the air around a thunderstorm can influence where a lightning bolt will strike. Read his explanation below:

Now, as is natural, it [lightning] tries to do so [strike the ground] in the easiest possible way and that is the path of least electrical resistance. Now, air is a very poor conductor of electricity and when the air is moist, or it is raining, the air becomes relatively more conductive (ie less electrically resistant) than if it were dry.  Thus, moist air increases the chances that a path may form to help equalize the potential difference between the cloud and the ground and it does so by a lightning strike.

From Biswajit Basu on Quora (read full answer here).

Will a Tent Save Your Life if Struck by Lightning

If you have ever heard the advice of getting to shelter during a thunderstorm, this doesn’t include your tent. While a tent doesn’t pose a big risk for attracting lightning during a thunderstorm, it definitely doesn’t offer that much protection either. If you’re camping in a tent, and your car is nearby, it’s always a good idea to leave your campsite immediately and seek shelter in your car. If your car is not accessible, your tent will give you protection from the rain and flying debris caused by a thunderstorm, but not so much from a potential lightning strike.

Is There Any Such Thing as a Lightning Proof Tent

At the time this article was written, there isn’t any tent for sale that offers protection from lighting. However, there is a concept tent that was designed by Kama Jania called the Bolt tent, you can see what it looks like here. Three different versions of this tent were tested and struck by lightning, the Bolt “half,” Bolt “one,” and Bolt “air”. The test was a success and didn’t allow the lightning strike to enter the tent.

A description of how the Bolt tent works is below.

Using aluminum poles and an aluminum connector, the tent can withstand 200 kiloamperes of electricity. Waterproof fabric, Mylar insulation and copper wiring make up the grounding apparatus. With the help of Professor Michał Kracik PhD, and physicists Konrad Sobolewski and Aleksander Bogucki, Jania worked figured out the exact calculations required to test the Bolt tent against high voltage contact. All this without the tent catching on fire or causing other damage to the materials used.

View the original explanation on inhabitat.com.

Can You Buy Tent Lightning Protection

There really is no lightning protection that you can purchase for your tent. You can purchase a small pack of lightning protector tent caps on Amazon, view them on Amazon here, but I can’t recommend them. I highly doubt they offer much protection whatsoever, and being there is only one review on the product at this time, I personally wouldn’t want to be the person that tests it out.

3 Things You Need to Know When Camping in a Thunderstorm

If you’re going camping where there is even the slightest chance that there could be a thunderstorm nearby, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind in order to stay safe.

1.) The first thing is if you’re camping near, or under a lot of trees, make sure that there are no dead branches hanging in the trees above your tent. If you’re in your tent caught in a thunderstorm and the lightning strikes a dead branch above you, it could cause the dead branch to fall down onto you and your tent, severely injuring or even killing you.

2.) The second thing is to make sure that you never pitch your tent in the middle of an open, flat area–such as a large field. While lightning doesn’t always strike the tallest object around, a tall object is at a higher risk of being struck. And if you’re camping in the middle of the field, you and your tent is going to be the tallest object around, which can increase your likelihood of being struck by lightning.

3.) The third thing is if you’re caught in the middle of a thunderstorm, don’t leave your tent (unless if it’s in a dangerous location) to go seek shelter in a small cave or under a big boulder. This can seem like the safest thing to do, however it can actually increase your risk of being struck by lightning! On the other hand, if you do happen to have access to a large cave, without any metallic objects nearby, then that can be a great place to find shelter from a thunderstorm, just not a small cave where you’re near the entrance.

I hope this brings a lot more clarity on your question if tents attract lightning! If you found this article helpful, be sure to share it with your fellow campers!

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