Since the time humans first noticed those blinding razors lancing through the sky, lightning has been one of the most discussed and feared natural phenomena. A number of stories were told that explained where this act of nature came from, including tales of it being formed by lightning gods, legends that it strikes only ‘cursed’ pieces of land, and many more.
While many of these stories concerning the source of lightning were dispelled as our knowledge of science became more comprehensive, there are still many stories and urban legends about lightning strikes that may or may not be true. For instance, it is often said that if you happen to have a metal piercing somewhere in your body, you run a higher risk of getting struck by lightning.
Is there any truth in that claim? Or is it just another lightning myth that is still being passed around to scare people?
Every time you see a sudden flash of white ripping through the sky, or (if you’re in indoors) hear a distinctive rumble of epic proportions, then you know that lightning is coming out to play. Lightning, in the simplest terms, is an electric current that primarily forms inside clouds, but can sometimes form between the clouds and the ground, resulting in what we call a ‘bolt of lightning’ with its characteristic blinding flash.
Since lightning involves the movement of electric charge (electric current), it fosters a belief that having metallic pieces on your person, such as piercings, will increase your chances of being hit by a lightning strike. Another assumption, and a more dangerous one, suggests that if you take off all the metallic objects on your body (including piercings), then you are absolutely safe to venture out during a lightning storm.
Does wearing piercings increase your chances of being hit by lightning?
Just because you happen to have one (or multiple) piercings on your person, you don’t become the ideal target of a lightning strike. It’s definitely not that straightforward, and lightning doesn’t exactly have a sentient mind controlling where it strikes!
Scale of a lightning strike
A lightning strike is unlike any other electric current; it originates thousands of feet above the ground and carries enormous energy within itself. Even the tallest skyscrapers can’t compete with the scale and power at which lightning occurs, let alone a human!
Here is an image of Chicago’s Sears Towers (the name was recently changed to Willis Tower), one of the tallest structures in the country.
Now, for a perspective of what this looks like with respect to a thunderstorm, look at the image below:
See the scale of the difference in their heights?
Now, imagine yourself standing next to the building and consider, just for a moment, your own significance in the grand scheme of things.
Now, dear reader, consider the impact of your tiny piercing in that same massive scheme of things!
None of this is to say that there’s absolutely no chance of your being hit by lightning because your height is too insignificant for something as large as a lightning strike; people do get struck by lightning! However, the assumption that wearing piercings on your body attracts lightning to your person is far from the realm of possibility.
So, am I absolutely safe outdoors with piercings during a thunderstorm?
No, absolutely not! You see, being outside with piercings is still not a good idea, not because piercings attract lightning (which is false), but simply because you are outdoors during a lightning storm!
It’s simply not a good idea to venture outside when there is a thunderstorm and warnings of lightning strikes. Just stay indoors and practice the precautions mentioned here (How Safe Are You Indoors During a Lightning Strike?). If you still insist on doing more to stay safe during a wild lightning storm, just pray that your building is not the chosen one!