In this article, Jason Marlin describes what it felt like to be hit by a direct lightning strike.
Yesterday, I was sitting in my studio office—basically a converted garage—while a thunderstorm brewed outside. After wrapping up a conference call with some of Ars’ finest, I was getting ready to dive back into work when the storm really picked up. “Ahhhh,” I thought as I leaned back in my chair to stare out at the strange greenish light against a purple-clouded backdrop. “So beautiful!”
At that moment—and this part is a little foggy—a bright arc of electricity shot through the window and directly into my chest. I’m not sure whether the arc originated from the sky or the ground, but it knocked me out of my chair. I hit the concrete floor and bounced back up to my feet, which were shuffling at top speed into a bookshelf. I remember thinking, “OK, going to die now. Do not fall down. Do not pass out.”
Pretty gripping reading. That’s as close as I want to get to being hit by lightning.
Kyle Hill discusses some of the common myths associated with lightning. One of them is that wearing shows, especially with rubber soles, helps prevent being struck. Hill says this is likely false.
[I]f lightning has burned its way through a mile or more of air (which is a superb insulator), it is hardly logical to believe that a few millimeters of any insulating material will be protective.
I think that is the wrong way to look at this. My understanding is that electricity, like water, chooses the easiest path and given the choice between two pathways, one of which has even a slightly greater resistance than the neighboring one, lightning will choose the lower resistance one. It is not that it the rubber insulates you and stops the lightning in its tracks but that it makes the pathway through your body less attractive than the alternatives. That is the purpose of lightning rods on tall buildings, to provide a low-resistance pathway that will intercept and channel the high currents safely to ground.
It is like the story about two hikers who confront a bear. One of the hikers stops to put on his running shoes. The other asks him whether he really thinks that it will help him outrun the bear, to which he replies that he doesn’t need to run faster than the bear, all he needs to be able to do is outrun the other person.