Which metal attracts lightning the most?


Original Post
KennyJoe Sabine · · zOmBiE = from = OUTER-SPACE · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 230

Would it be copper? Will electricity travel along the rope if lightning strikes the copperhead left at the belay. Aluminum? Would lightning strike my stoppers and carbines or redirected to the copper at the belay. Steel? Does lightning gravitate towards a harder metal like steel?

Or would it be heavy metal? Like Metallica's 1984 Ride the Lightning album.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17HRV8k1YMw

NegativeK · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 5

As a somewhat uneducated guess, I bet the conductivities of copper, aluminum, and steel are close enough that other things are going to be way more important -- their shape, how grounded they are, et cetera.

I'd also be very surprised if the hardness of the metal came into play.

Scott M. McNamara · · Tucson, Arizona · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 55

http://stormhighway.com/small_metal_objects_attract_lightning_myth.php

KennyJoe Sabine · · zOmBiE = from = OUTER-SPACE · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 230

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBoZnHY_LAg

John Barritt · · OKC · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,053

All metal attracts lightning. Had some acquintences from TX that I climbed with when they were in OK get hit by lightning while climbing at Prescott. They were on multi-pitch and saw the storm approaching. They got down and on the hike out it started raining hard. They sat under a tree for cover. Not sure if it was the tree or the aluminum or both, but they got nailed. One was killed, the other knocked out. Fortunately the one that was knocked out was a PT. He performed CPR and saved the other guys life. The guy that was killed and revived made a full recovery with the exception of losing a month's memory. JB

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,740

More important than the composition of the metal is the shape. Sharp edges and points generate much higher electric field strengths than rounded objects. So ice gear = dangerous; biners not so much. But if your hair is standing up, you're in a very bad situation.

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 650
John Barritt wrote:The guy that was killed and revived made a full recovery with the exception of losing a month's memory. JB
Woah...
Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162

Keep in mind that lightning is really powerful and it's not "small." In other words, if it strikes a copperhead 4 feet from you, you're probably screwed, regardless of the composition of the metal around it.

Remember that lightning occurs by ionizing the air itself and turning it into a conductor. It probably doesn't care too much about your puny metal parts, and it will be just about as happy to go through you.

Fun fact: A common misconception is that a car protects you from lightning due to rubber tires. This is false. Lightning isn't even slowed down by a couple inches of rubber, it's the metal cage that conducts the electricity away and protects (somewhat) the occupants.

BigB · · Red Rock, NV · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 340

did any of you read the link posted above by Scott re: lightning myths?!? probably should ;)...lightning doesn't care about your cams or yer nutz

Brian in SLC · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 13,772

At the Jenny Lake Ranger Station in the Tetons, they have a display from some of the gear found at the 2010 lightning incident. Sobering stuff.

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871

Metal does not attract lightning, at least not in the way some people think.

Extreme air currents, up drafts and such, create an enormous pools of negative charge in the sky. Think of a pool the size of football stadiium, or much, much larger. This giant negative pool acts like a gigantic "magnet", pulling on positive charges all around it in attempt to equalize. It is pulling on the air and clouds nearby and on the earth nearby. Now, pools of positive charge are building nearby, in the clouds, in the ground. These giant pools of opposite charges are pulling on each other. Sometimes, the nearby positive pool in the cloud wins and you get cloud to cloud lightning. For the discussion, cloud to ground is most important.

So, as this giant pool grows in the ground, it is seeking the giant pool in the sky. The two are pulling on each other. The charge in the ground is moving upward and seeking to get closer to the pool in the sky. It will move through the ground to higher areas generally speaking, tall buildings, mountain tops, trees, etc. Think of stalactites and stalagmites growing toward each other, but very quickly.

On the scale of things, your tiny carabiners mean nothing. Same goes for you rope. But, if you have the misfortune to be standing on that massive pool of positive charge, a wet rope may play a tiny role in conducting some of this massive charge. If you really have the misfortune that these charges find you to be the closest and best path, as the charge goes through you, any metal will carry some charge more easily. But, the metal on you did not attract the lightning. Anything it passed through will get super heated. Water on you will boil instantly and sort of explode. Your cloths and shoes may get blown off. You are fucked at this point.

Rubber shoes will help a tiny bit by putting an insulator between you and the ground. Touching the ground or rock with any other part of your body negates this, though.

Best to avoid the situation in the first place.

Btw, copper is a better conductor than aluminum, aluminum is a better than steel.

DanielHart · · Carpinteria ca · Joined Dec 2016 · Points: 5

Lightning is not attracted to metal it is attracted to the highest thing it can strike. Certainly some metals are more conductive but it will not attract.

BigB · · Red Rock, NV · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 340
DanielHart wrote:Lightning is not attracted to metal it is attracted to the highest thing it can strike. Certainly some metals are more conductive but it will not attract.
not true^, please read link above(example given: they now know that lightening will hit the side of a building or even the ground next to it, they also show lightning hitting a parking lot with metal light poles less than 50' away and trees that are even closer...
Jason Kim · · Encinitas, CA · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 270

Interesting info! Now I feel like an idiot for throwing my rack as far as possible (down a gully) and having to retrieve it later. Lightning scares the shit out of me.

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871
BigB wrote: not true^, please read link above(example given: they now know that lightening will hit the side of a building or even the ground next to it, they also show lightning hitting a parking lot with metal light poles less than 50' away and trees that are even closer...
That's just because the metal pole is a good conductor and a high point. A tree in the parking lot would have a similar effect, although not as good of a conductor.
BigB · · Red Rock, NV · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 340
Greg D wrote: That's just because the metal pole is a good conductor and a high point. A tree in the parking lot would have a similar effect, although not as good of a conductor.
did you read the link?...it didn't use the metal pole or the trees, it hit the parking lot in the "middle" (the flattest part)with all those supposed conductors around...untouched
Matt Wilson · · Vermont, USA · Joined May 2010 · Points: 165

Silver, being the most conductive metal, would attract lightning the most. Lighting is just electricity attempting to find the path of least resistance to the ground. Granted, the variables involved are so massive, that the difference between silver and another metal would be negligible.

jktinst · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 55
BigB wrote: did you read the link?...it didn't use the metal pole or the trees, it hit the parking lot in the "middle" (the flattest part)with all those supposed conductors around...untouched
Interesting reading that link but I find it hard to reconcile with the fact that whenever I hear/read about people getting struck outdoors, about 8 times out of 10, they had taken refuge under a tree (more often than not an isolated one). I'm sure that there's some degree of randomness as to exactly where the point of strike will be within the ground pool of positive charges but it would take a lot more to convince me that it's OK to hide under a tree to try and keep dry because, supposedly, it's too small to make a difference anyway.
KennyJoe Sabine · · zOmBiE = from = OUTER-SPACE · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 230

Then why they got a lighting rod made out of copper in my backyard?

Brian L. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 90

The electricity in a lightning strike isn't like the electricity you use every day. It so much more. The power of it is hard to imagine. You don't need to be hit directly by the strike to be effected. If lightning strikes NEAR you, that current still travels through the ground, through objects close by, until the power is dissipated by the resistance of the material it's moving through.

Example:
1 bolt of lightning has the equivalent power of what it take to power your house for an entire month, all delivered in an instant. (more actually, if you compare to the average consumption).

I've heard a first hand account of someone seeing a tree that was struck by lightning in the middle of a cow pasture. The cow had all huddled under the tree in the storm. Every cow was dead.

Long story short: it doesn't matter what your gear is made from. If you're exposed in a lightning storm you're at risk, and the material in your gear isn't going to mitigate that in the slightest. Get down, and find appropriate shelter.

Also, it's a web comic but the author is a PhD Physicist, who I generally trust to be informed, or inform himself before putting information out there. He did an interesting write up on all the lightning related questions he recieved and has a general description of how lightning finds it's path to the ground:

https://what-if.xkcd.com/16/

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871
BigB wrote: did you read the link?...it didn't use the metal pole or the trees, it hit the parking lot in the "middle" (the flattest part)with all those supposed conductors around...untouched
True. It doesn't always get the highest point nearby. I guarantee you the metal pole had a strong positive charge at its top. But the ultimate point of contact is somewhat random in the vicinity. I saw a program years ago where researchers were studying lightning. They had a very tall lightning rod in the middle of the field and they were nearby in a well insulated cage. Sometimes the lightning struck the pole and sometimes it just struck nearby.

In the example of the parking lot, there was a giant pool of positive charge underneath it. Where exactly the Lightning strike will be this hard to predict.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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