Rainfall is the primary method by which water in the atmosphere is sent down to Earth and is a crucial component of animals, plants, and humans to meet their water requirements. As thunderstorms continue to occur in several parts of Sri Lanka during this rainy season, strong wind and lightning incidents have been frequent over the past few weeks.
Our Factcrescendo team found a recurring myth on social media claiming that mobile phones attract lighting; hence, using handphones during heavy downpours is unsafe.
Social Media Posts
A viral on social media depicts a man getting attacked by lightning while using a handphone. It can be seen that the man is holding an umbrella too. However, the social media posts imply that the cause of the lightning accident was mobile phone usage at the moment of lightning, as seen in the below narration.
“This man was using his handphone while walking in the rain. It is believed the lightning was attracted to the handphone signals. Good Lesson…Don`t use handphones in open spaces when it is raining.”
We detected the videos on Facebook also.
First, we did a reverse image search using the Invid-We Verify tool to find out more details about the origins of the viral video. We found several reports published in December 2021 carrying the shocking footage of a security guard’s umbrella vaporising into a giant fireball after being zapped by lightning. Miraculously the person survived.
The story behind the viral video
We extracted from the below narration on Mirror`s article on the incident.
“The man miraculously survived the incident, which was caught on camera, as he was struck and then collapsed. The incredible clip was filmed at a depot in the village of Sukapura in North Jakarta, Indonesia. Abdul Rosyid, 35, can be seen walking across an open courtyard with an umbrella in heavy rain. All of a sudden, a lightning bolt can be seen, which suddenly strikes him down. A dazzling shower of sparks fills the air as the man falls to the ground and barely moves as colleagues then rush to his aid. The victim was patrolling the depot with a radio transmitter and umbrella when the bolt of lightning zapped him in the open courtyard. He remained motionless on the ground as colleagues arrived on the scene and arranged for him to be taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.”
So, it’s clear that the victim, in this case, Abdul Rosyid, 35, was patrolling a depot with a radio transmitter and umbrella when the bolt of lightning zapped the umbrella in the open courtyard. The newspaper further noted that there were burns only on his hands, and he was released from the hospital a few days after treatment. The Mirror report can be read here. Archived Daily Mail | NY Post
But do Mobile Phones attract Lightning?
However, the question remains whether handphones/walkie-talkies lead to these lighting strikes, and do mobile phone signals attract lightning. We referred to the views of a few academics and research papers.
We searched the local news reports from Indonesia related to the above incident of a security guard being shot by lightning and found the version of one of their local experts on lightning.
Experts clarify the facts behind the myths about Mobile Phones & Lightning.
According to Prof Reynaldo Zoro, a Lightning researcher and Professor from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), a cellular phone or handy talky (HT) does not cause a person to be struck by lightning. Because they have different frequencies, he explains that lightning only strikes points within striking distance. Therefore, if the lightning is small, the striking distance is small. “Maybe it’s a myth as if the frequency of cellphones and HT with lightning is connected, isn’t it? The (frequency) of cellphones and HT is GHz (gigahertz), while the maximum lightning is only 100 MHz (megahertz), so it’s not connected.”, Professor expressed these ideas to Indonesian media, ‘Compass’. Details about this can be taken from here. Archived.
John Jensenius, lightning safety specialist for the National Weather Service of USA, said to the AccuWeather website that holding/using mobile phones during lightning is not a specific factor to attract lightning strikes. However, he noted that using traditional phones with wire connections is risky when lightning. He emphasised that people should stay indoors or in enclosed places while lightning happens. More details about this can be read here. Archived.
According to an article published on Stratford University`s website, the probability of a cell phone being hit by lightning is less likely; it can happen, although probably more as a function of the person using the phone being the tallest object around the area when lightning strikes, rather than having anything to do with the phone itself.
Cell phones (and cordless portable phones) used indoors during electrical storms are perfectly safe because there is no wire through which the electric discharge could travel. (The belief that lightning can follow radio waves is entirely unfounded.)
Probabilities of Lighting and Side Flashes when carrying metal objects?
There is also a widespread belief that cell phones pose a risk when used outside because lightning is attracted to metal, and handsets generally contain insignificant amounts of metal. The full article can be read here. Archived.
A study was conducted on two hypotheses as to whether metal objects such as mobile phones increase the lightning risk. The results conclude that the popular public concept is firmly rejected and “a metal sphere of a radius of about 22 m or a person of height 8.5 m is required to increase the possibility of such a direct strike. However, the same metal object may significantly increase the side flash probability if the victim is close to the lightning-struck object or inside an unsafe shelter.”
The complete study can be read here | Archived
Here are some of the Lightning Safety Tips from the CDC
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Experts clarify that the myth of mobile phones/handphones attracting lightning strikes is a hoax and that there is no scientific evidence of increased lighting probabilities when carrying such a handheld device.
If you are in an isolated, risky place like under a big solitary tree or being the tallest object in the area etc., there is a high possibility of lighting strikes irrespective of whether you are carrying a mobile phone or not. Also, if the victim is close to a lightning-struck object or inside an unsafe shelter, having a metal object may significantly increase the side flash probability.
Title:Is it safe to use mobile phones during lightning? Find Out the Facts…Fact Check By: Kalana Krishantha