Experts Divided on What Attracts Lightning

ByABC News via logo
July 12, 2006, 7:31 AM

July 12, 2006 — -- The bolt of lightning that struck Jason Bunch of Castle Rock, Colo., last week seared his foot, shredded his T-shirt, fused his hair together, and turned the iPod he was wearing into a kind of conductor.

"Where the ear-bud earphones were, basically, yeah, they ruptured my eardrums," said Bunch, who was burned downed to his chest.

In 2004, a 19-year-old Houston woman died when she was struck while talking on her cell phone.

"I tried to help her out, but I could not do anything anymore," said Lorana Gonzalez, who saw it happen.

Can an electronic device make a lightning strike worse?

In a recent issue of the British Medical Journal, three London doctors warned "mobile phones outdoors during stormy weather. Are a public health issue" because of their conductive properties.

They cited the case of a 15-year-old British girl who had been struck while talking on her cell phone and was now severely disabled.

But a lightning detection center in Tuscon, Ariz., run by the weather-related technology company Vaisala Group, says a cell phone or MP3 player is no more dangerous in a storm than a set of keys or loose change.

"What you're wearing or carrying doesn't have anything to do with whether you'll be hit," said Ron Holle, a meteorologist with the Vaisala Group.

Holle said all 25 million lightning flashes that hit American soil each year had the power to kill, no matter what you're carrying. It's also a myth that metal objects in your pockets attract lightning, he added.

There is one device experts say you need to worry about in a storm: a corded home phone, which should be used only in emergencies.

"A surge of current from the lightning hitting that pole will come into the house if you're holding this up to your ear," Holle said. "Now that's really a significant event."

There are some things you can do to protect yourself outside, he added.

"It's looking for something tall," he said. "It's looking for something isolated."

ABC News' Nancy Weiner reported this story for "Good Morning America."