How to be safe in an RV in a lightning storm


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Mark Polk of RVeducation101.com interviews RV electricity expert Mike Sokol about what an RVer should do during an electrical storm. Presented by RVtravel.com: Sign up for its informative weekly or daily newsletters(s) at http://RVtravel.com . More than 200,000 readers every month.

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25 replies
  1. Steven Hardy
    Steven Hardy says:

    Partially bad info.Prior to a lightning strike the ground builds up a charge . Lightning is most likely to strike a high point on ground that is isolated from other ground due to dryness. Concrete and asphalt contribute greatly to these isolated areas. He is correct about the faraday shield and it does offer protection. Avoiding providing a direct path to ground also helps. Why do planes get struck be lightning often??? They generate enormous static charges as they pass thru the air. The best tip to know of is not touching metal as you enter leave a "faraday cage" OR if a power cable has fallen on your car or metal trailer.

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  2. Phyllis Snook
    Phyllis Snook says:

    Your videos are fantastic. My best friend just bought a 36 ft RV that they are taking across country from the end of Long Island, NY to Idaho to live…..I just sent her many of your videos and told her to subscribe to your channel……Everything you say in them gives great insight into traveling via RV….and this is their very first one!

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  3. Mike Sokol
    Mike Sokol says:

    I've been doing more studying on the differences between jacks-down and jacks-up during a lightning storm, and have an untested hypothesis. In jacks-down on the dirt mode, any lightning strike on your RV would have the electrical charge flow around the exterior of the RV's skin/frame and end up in the earth via the jack contacts on the dirt. Not a bad thing, and should be safe for RV occupants as long as they're not hanging out the windows, etc… However, I found one video of a pickup truck on the highway that was struck by lighting as it was driving, and the tires blew out from the lightning bolt traveling through the interior of the tires and super-heating the air, over-pressuring the tires and causing them to blow out. So I'm going to suggest that jacks down on the dirt would prevent RV tire blowout during a lightning strike, but jacks up or on insulating platforms will force the lightning to find the next best path to earth, which is inside your tires. And that can cause the tires to blow out. So I'm standing by my previous quote about leaving the jacks down on the ground, disconnecting shore power, and lowering any television mast or antenna. And, of course, the safest place to be in a lightning storm is a solid building. But the next best thing is your vehicle or an aluminum skin RV. As noted before, tents, unframed fiberglass campers, and canvas pop-up campers offer zero Faraday Cage protection during a lightning event and should be avoided. 

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  4. Mike Sokol
    Mike Sokol says:

    Actually,it's incorrect to say that electricity flows through the path of least resistance, it flows through ALL resistance paths simultaneously. And remember, a lightning strike is MILLIONS of volts, not the hundreds or even thousands of volts in AC power distribution. The key to surviving a lightning hit in an RV is the Faraday cage effect which creates its own magnetic bubble which bends the electrical field around the exterior of the metal cage. But the key point is to disconnect your RV from shore power during a lightning storm since the campground wiring WILL act like a big antenna and funnel any nearby ground strikes into your RV's electrical system. However, I would argue that it makes no practical difference if your RV is sitting on rubber tires and insulated jacks, or with the jacks down on the dirt. I've discussed this at length with the lightning safety experts at NOAA, and they've vetted my articles for accuracy. They agree with my lightning safety recommendations based on best known electrical engineering practice. Now, if you want to come up with a different model of how this works, then you need to contact NOAA and come up with a test budget, or call Mythbusters (seriously) and I'll design a double test with an RV on tires vs an RV on jacks and we'll hit it with some big lightning generators to prove or disprove each theory. But barring a full sized experiment under controlled conditions, then I'm sticking my original statement that putting your RV on insulated blocks doesn't help to keep your RV from getting a lightning hit. However, it doesn't hurt anything, so go ahead and do that if you like. But you certainly want to disconnect your RV from shore power during any lightning storm. Just do it early, not while the storm is raging over head. 

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  5. ToniMattTony
    ToniMattTony says:

    He is somewhat incorrect. Electricity such as Lighting flows through the least resistive path and what we call in the trade a difference in potential. Having said that when you are on jacks you decrease the resistive path and difference in potential therefore increasing the odds of a strike. Case in point if you were to look at a lighting rod it is very similar to a radio antenna which he said should be brought down. It is true the lighting had travelled hundreds of miles but, the lighting would rather pull from a metal stick driven into the ground then from a vehicle on 8"rubber tires. Remember it takes a 1/4 inch of rubber to stop 600 volts therefore tires are an excellent insulator even if you were to factor in the shunt created by the rain pouring over the tires. So in summation it is safer to be on tires then its is to be on metal jacks planted into the ground.

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  6. Mike Sokol
    Mike Sokol says:

    I would really like to do is a Mythbusters episode using a 250,000 volt Tesla coil to throw lightning strikes at various RVs with different skins and frames. I would have their crash dummy Buster sitting inside to record the lightning hits that make it inside the trailer. Talk about fun!!!

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  7. Mike Sokol
    Mike Sokol says:

    A full aluminum skinned trailer is the safest in a storm, but a fiberglass skin trailer offers much less protection. If it has metal framing on 16" centers, you're probably still reasonably safe from lightning. However, an RV built with fiberglass over a wood frame or a total ribbed fiberglass frame will offer ZERO protection from a lightning strike. And remember that in a canvas pop-up camper you're not only in danger from a lightning strike, but also falling branches from any overhead trees.

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