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Umbrella as lightning rod!

  1. Aug 21, 2004 #1
    Does the metal pole of most umbrellas increase significantly the risk of the bearer being struck by lightning? In many ways its construction, as a conductor with a tapered tip used during electrical storms, resembles that of a lightning rod!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 21, 2004 #2


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    I hope you're not asking one of us to carry out an experiment and get back to you with the results! :surprise:

    Sorry for the facetious answer. I honestly don't know. But it seems plausible. Of course, it's safe to say that if lightning were to strike the tip of your umbrella while you were holding it, you'd be toast. But I guess what you were asking was whether holding the umbrella makes this a more probable occurence. Good question. I'm certainly interested now...
  4. Aug 21, 2004 #3
    Recall that key experiment by Benjamin Franklin...
  5. Aug 21, 2004 #4


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    Depends upon how high the tip of the umbrellas is. Assuming that the tip of the umbrellas is higher than other nearby objects (I think it is about a 70 degree angle from the tip), that the umbrellas is conducting, and that you and the umbrella are grounded, then, yes, any "static charge" in the area will pass through you as the easiest path- your chance of being hit by lightning are higher.
  6. Sep 8, 2010 #5
    During a PGA professional golf tournament near Chicago (USA) 1n 1975, Lee Trevino held his putter up, and he was struck by lightning.

    "......[He] was nearly killed when he was struck by lightning during a tournament in 1975. The injuries he suffered lingered, but he recovered to win another Vardon Trophy in 1980. The 1984 PGA Championship was his final major and final PGA Tour victory."


    Bob S
  7. Sep 11, 2010 #6

    Meir Achuz

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    I hope you don't mind a golf joke. If Lee had held a one iron up instead of a putter, he would have been safe, because even God can't hit a one iron.
  8. Sep 12, 2010 #7
    Highly dubious. Most people who are "struck by lightning" are actually hit by the ground stroke. That is the lightning bolt hit the ground nearby and he was hit by the expanding semispherical current. A direct hit would have killed him. People are not reliable eye witnesses to where the lightning struck in such a situation, it is too fast, and they are prejudiced by their own beliefs.
  9. Oct 27, 2010 #8
    Why would a metal object attract a lightning bolt , When the lightning bolt is traveling through the air is there a strong E field around it, and does this E field cause charge separation in the metal and then would this attract it to the bolt. This might sound dumb but i want to word it this way , how does the lightning know there are metal objects around .
  10. Oct 27, 2010 #9
    I'm not sure, but I'll take a whack at this.

    To my knowledge, a bolt of lightning doesn't descend from the clouds saying "Alright, who's gonna get it?" If you think of the system as a giant capacitor, a jump is more likely if the gap is narrowed (taller objects are more likely to be struck) and if a greater charge is able to be separated. Since electrons are free to move in the umbrella's metal tip, the part nearest the sky would adopt an opposite charge, making a jump more likely.

    Just some guesses.
  11. Oct 28, 2010 #10
    See description and illustration of St. Elmo's fire at


    Mountain climbers often note the aroma of ozone just before a lightning strike. This is a signal of air ionization around prominent objects.

    Bob S
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