Charge Residual After Lightning Strike
If I were driving in my car, and my car was hit by
lightning, how long should I wait before attempting to leave the
car safely (i.e., how long does it take for the electricity to
dissipate, so I can leave my car without fear of being
You could leave your car almost immediately. There is no residual
energy in or around your car after a lightning strike to it.
The energy is dissipated very quickly to whatever electrical
ground is nearby.
However, I would caution you that lightning may strike again in
the same vicinity, often within 10 seconds to one minute. So,
if you can, I would suggest driving to a safe location before
exiting your car. If your car can not be driven, wait inside
your car (without touching anything that is metal) until the
storm and all likelihood of lightning has ended. Then you
can get out of your car.
David R. Cook
Climate Research Section
Environmental Science Division
Argonne National Laboratory
The electricity from that lightning bolt is mostly dissipated
immediately, though some relatively small amount could be stored by
the metal car body which is insulated from the ground by the rubber
tires. So a kind of capacitor is formed where the two electrodes
are the metal car body and the ground,
I would expect that capacitor to discharge rather quickly,
especially if it is raining.
Probably a much bigger danger is the possibility of another
lightning bolt. I think you would be well-advised to stay in your
car, which is a relatively safe place during a thunderstorm, until
the center of the storm has moved away. The danger is probably not
large, but it is better to be safe than fried!
Best, Dick Plano, Professor of Physics emeritus, Rutgers University
I think the charge would go away in seconds. But there might be
another lightning strike, and common sense would say stay in the car
for a while.
Click here to return to the Physics Archives
Update: June 2012