With Spring Comes Lightning! - Fiberglass RV


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Old 04-11-2018, 09:17 AM   #1
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With Spring Comes Lightning!

Another article from Mike Sokol about lightning safety you all might find interesting as he specifically address's lightning and fiberglass trailers.


Issue 881 • April 11, 2018

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RVing Tip of the Day

Will your RV protect you from a lightning strike?

By Mike Sokol

Since we’ll soon be in lightning season, it’s time to prepare for storm safety. Here’s a typical question about RVs and lightning I receive every year.
“I know an automobile or truck is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm with lightning because you are basically in a metal box. How about our fiberglass RVs? Are we protected in any way from lightning or should we head for our vehicle?” —Walt L. (Boulder, CO)

Ah, yes. The “Why don’t you get electrocuted when lightning hits your car?” question. As many of you may already know, you are safe from lightning when inside a car with a metal roof, but soft-top convertibles are certainly NOT safe in a lightning storm. That’s because as Walt hinted, in a car, you are essentially inside a big metal box, and this box forms something called a Faraday Cage. This cool gadget was invented by Michael Faraday back in 1836, when he coated the inside walls of a room with metal foil and discovered that voltages would flow around the outside of the room but never reach inside of it. See this website for more technical stuff about Faraday Cages.

It also hints that the rubber tires on a vehicle do nothing to insulate you from a lightning strike. If the lightning has already traveled thousands of feet from the cloud towards the earth, another 6 inches of tire insulation won’t slow it down a bit. It’s the metal surrounding you that forms a magnetic field that helps bend the electricity around the exterior of the box. And even though you have windows in a car, there’s typically enough metal in the windshield and door columns to make a nice low-impedance electrical path around you. However, don’t stick your hand out the window in an electrical storm as you could be killed that way.

So let’s think about a typical RV. An all-metal shell like an Airstream is probably as safe as you can get in a lightning storm since they’re shaped like a big aluminum Twinkie, and that same airplane shape allows airliners to be hit by lightning without any interior damage. I’ve actually been on a flight that was hit by lightning, and even though everything lit up very bright, the pilot said it was no big deal and indeed everything was fine. And an aluminum skin toy-hauler or race-car trailer would be just as safe in a lightning storm.

However, fiberglass-skin RVs are a different story altogether. If they’re manufactured with a welded aluminum cage using fiberglass insulated panels, I’m pretty sure the Faraday Cage effect would still work. But if your RV is fiberglass over stick (wood) construction, then I would say you’re not safe in a lightning storm, and you would want to wait it out in the tow vehicle.

Pop-up campers with tent fabric offer zero Faraday Cage protection, so I would never spend time inside one during a bad lightning storm. Plus, if they’re parked under a tree there’s always the possibility of a big limb falling on your head with dire consequences. So pick your campsite carefully to avoid overhanging branches.

In any case, you’ll want to disconnect your RV shore power plug from the campsite pedestal during a big storm, since a lightning ground strike on the other end of the campground could easily get directed into the underground wiring feeding all the campsites, and you could have a several-thousand-volt spike (surge) come in through your electrical panel and burn out everything inside your RV. But your onboard generator should be safe to run since it’s also inside of your Faraday Cage. However, hooking your shore power plug into a portable generator sitting outside on the ground would be a very bad idea in a lightning storm.

I’ve also heard some people recommend lifting the leveling jacks or putting them on insulated platforms for lightning protection, but I’m pretty sure that would have little or no effect on any lightning ground surface charges getting into your RV. If you have a metal-caged RV with either aluminum or fiberglass skin, I would say to leave the jacks down, disconnect your shore power from the campsite pedestal, and turn on your battery-powered fan and interior lights for a little ventilation and illumination. Then break out the deck of cards and whatever social fluids you like and wait for everything to blow over. If your RV has a wood frame and fiberglass skin or is a tent fabric popup, I would head to the campground rec center or your car and enjoy the show while the lightning zips around you. And take your digital camera to try for some time-exposure pictures of lightning strikes. I love watching lightning storms … but only from the inside of a protected place.

Mike Sokol
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Old 04-11-2018, 10:46 AM   #2
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Maybe we don't need that inside-Peanut 12V outlet to use our 12V electric blanket in there after all--we'll just leave it in the van in case of a lightning storm. We'll be all set.

NOW I want to outfit the van for hours of comfort...pillows, water, snacks, flashlights, books...I know! I'll make an emergency grab bag to keep in Peanut in case we have to evacuate the trailer in a pinch! We already have one in the van in case we need to evacuate our house in a pinch... and one in the house in case we have to hop on an emergency vehicle without time to get into the van, and...

Vintageracer--Mike, THANKS for this! Kidding aside, it's good to know.

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Old 04-11-2018, 12:41 PM   #3
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...it'll just havvta come and get me...I am not running to the car/truck because of lightning, I will sit by my Casita's picture window and observe all the goin' on outside...

...I have spent my entire working life, working outdoors, and while, you may call BS on me, I have actually been hit by lightning strikes 3 diff times...
...twice while installing copper piping in new houses, where I was knocked out by close strikes and a third time, lightning hit the tree I was parked next to just as I stepped up into my truck..
...not sure what happened, but witnesses said, all they could see was a ball of lightning around my truck and then I popped out on the opposite side of the truck looking like Doc from Back to the Future...
...must be why I am so brain burnt(it has nothing to do with previous lifestyle choices)
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Old 04-11-2018, 12:50 PM   #4
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...it'll just havvta come and get me...I am not running to the car/truck because of lightning, I will sit by my Casita's picture window and observe all the goin' on outside...

...I have spent my entire working life, working outdoors, and while, you may call BS on me, I have actually been hit by lightning strikes 3 diff times...
...twice while installing copper piping in new houses, where I was knocked out by close strikes and a third time, lightning hit the tree I was parked next to just as I stepped up into my truck..
...not sure what happened, but witnesses said, all they could see was a ball of lightning around my truck and then I popped out on the opposite side of the truck looking like Doc from Back to the Future...
...must be why I am so brain burnt(it has nothing to do with previous lifestyle choices)
madjack
Or perhaps you're just well grounded?
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Old 04-11-2018, 03:51 PM   #5
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madjack:

I'm going to make a new emergency bag to grab and run with -- if you come around on a thundery, lightning stormy day! I think you're a conduit! You're lucky...but who's to say I'd be as lucky as you?

Or as Raz said, you're well grounded.

I've been knocked out by electricity three times; once on my birthday by a stove/fridge that weren't grounded, once by a mis-wired 3-way lamp, and once by wallpapering around a live outlet with wet paper and a metal x-acto knife.

I did not enjoy it. Though it wasn't exactly painful...it was, shall we say, quite a jolt!

Hadn't considered using it as a reason for my many mental glitches or burnt-out brain, but I will follow your example in that if you don't mind..

And that's not to say I compare my 110/120 experiences with your lightning strikes! Not even in the same ballpark! Other than to say I know I'd prefer to avoid any more--or any worse!

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Old 04-11-2018, 09:25 PM   #6
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Vintageracer- Not sure if your answer directly addressed a Casita trailer in a lightning storm or not. Does the frame of the Casita serve as a Faraday Cage? Would letting the chains to touch the ground help? Thanks
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Old 04-12-2018, 05:33 AM   #7
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It does not. It requires conductive material surrounding the top and sides as well.
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Old 04-12-2018, 05:58 AM   #8
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I have a dumb question. Most of us live in stick built houses with no real Faraday cage that I know of. So why are we not getting killed on a regular basis during lightning storms when we are indoors? My plumbing and electrical lines are grounded and I also have an underground feeder wire for electric so it's not going to hit that first. Is it because our houses are typically planted into the ground?
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Old 04-12-2018, 07:21 AM   #9
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lightning

at 76 I have camped in a huge 40f bus 5th wheels tents never considered lightning a problem I have had strikes hit things once saw a transformer hit by lightning now that is something to see, I have never heard of a lightning strike to my stuff maybe I missed something.

I have just never worried about these things

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Old 04-12-2018, 09:42 AM   #10
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Vtec: I'm waiting for that answer, too. All the houses we've had except this one had a bare wire running down from something inside under the siding to a 3' or so long metal rod that went down into the ground--usually overgrown with foundation plantings. Once we found it disconnected and Paul wound the loose wire back onto the rod. We assumed it was there for a reason. We thought lightning conduit...

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Old 04-12-2018, 10:05 AM   #11
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I have a dumb question. Most of us live in stick built houses with no real Faraday cage that I know of. So why are we not getting killed on a regular basis during lightning storms when we are indoors? My plumbing and electrical lines are grounded and I also have an underground feeder wire for electric so it's not going to hit that first. Is it because our houses are typically planted into the ground?
We took a direct hit a few years back. It hit a radio antenna, jumped to the service entrance and took out any electronics that was plugged in. We were unharmed. The lightening is seeking a path to ground. To be hurt you have to be in the conduction path. Were I standing next to the service entrance or by the antenna lead I could have been hit. That's why they suggest standing under a tree is a bad idea. If it hits the tree it most likely hits you.
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Old 04-12-2018, 10:18 AM   #12
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i had 2 lightning strikes

I have 2 towers 1 at 100f and another at 120f lightning has hit those and ran down my coax it isn't pretty. one time it came through ground wiped out all my ham radio gear, a tv and a fridge.

20k worth of damage and they didn't cancel me! that was 20 years ago none since then.


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Old 04-12-2018, 10:19 AM   #13
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I have 2 tall towers one at 100f and another at 120f I had one strike it came down through my coax through ground on my ham radio gear a tv and a fridge.


20k worth of damage and they didn't cancel me that was 20 years ago.
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Old 04-12-2018, 11:00 AM   #14
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Why do you not want to be a prominent person in your occupation during a thunderstorm?























Because you don't want to be outstanding in your field.

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Old 04-12-2018, 11:46 AM   #15
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Do we have a rimshot emojicon?
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Old 04-12-2018, 12:07 PM   #16
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Steve Carlson:

Can't find one.
Could use one.

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Old 04-12-2018, 12:33 PM   #17
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Have to make do with the dancing nanner
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Old 04-12-2018, 01:25 PM   #18
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weird

well conversation taken on sort of weird turn! I suppose it was directed at me when I was in my 50s I put those towers up by myself 10f at a time a major feat don't know many people who have done that. so what I had a lighting strike I am not going to whine and wring my hands! I don't worry about lightning now!

I can copy moriss code at 40wpm not many people can do that. I can run as much power as a radio station in my ham shack not many people can build something like that! I built it by myself!

At 76 in my life I have done a lot had a lot happen I overcame with hard work most people just give up and lay down. I maintain a lifestyle to keep me young.

I am a tightwad not as bad as some of my friends when something happens I can usually fix it myself I don't run to anyone unless I know them! Usually my mechanic can fix things for me very cheaply know I don't deal with stealerships!

I was trained in my young life to respect others I do that even when remarks are made such as this with actually no respect!

just the facts mam!!



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Old 04-12-2018, 02:36 PM   #19
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I don't think anything was directed at you Bob.
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Old 04-12-2018, 04:31 PM   #20
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Not totally related but having retired from the power company I have witnessed more than my share of electrically related fatalities
I ve seen guys feet blown off as well as guys burnt beyond recognition
And in many cases it was because they were working on 16,000 volt lines... remember itís not the Voltage that gets you it is the amps... one of the worst voltages is 477volts
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