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There is widespread belief in my culture that we should not stay near door or windows during lightning. So people advise others to stay inside house with doors and windows closed to be safe from lightning. Is there any scientific basis for that idea of being hit by lightning when staying close to doors or windows?

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I saw a ball lightning enter a room through a window once. Obviously, in such an event, there is a much higher chance that you will be in its path if you are at the window it comes through than somewhere else in the room. But the probability of ever experiencing a ball lightning in your life is so low that it may not be practically relevant. –  rumtscho Jul 28 at 14:15
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The same applies to watching fireworks! –  gerrit Jul 28 at 14:37
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Just recently a few houses down the street a lightning split a tree causing debris to shatter some windows. Google around and you will find many such incidents. Then judge if it is safe by your own subjective measures of safety. –  PlasmaHH Jul 28 at 14:51
    
I hope you follow advice this sensical even before verifying it. –  djechlin Jul 28 at 17:17
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arstechnica.com/science/2013/05/… At least one example of lighting coming in a window and striking someone. I don't now the probabilities for it happening though. –  stonemetal Jul 28 at 19:36

2 Answers 2

up vote 37 down vote accepted

It's not just your culture. Advice from the US National Weather Service includes:

Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.

The answer to this related question (including the transcript of interview with meteorologist John Jensenius) and this advice from National Geographic gives some reasons for the advice.

  • Metal frame windows and doors are good electrical conductors, but even glass can conduct lightning.
  • Lightning strikes on the building or debris from nearby strikes can shatter glass in windows and doors causing flying glass.
  • Lightning is often accompanied by other extreme weather including high winds and hail which can damage windows and doors.
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The problem is that it just says what could happen, but not how likely it is to happen. Nothing is safe if you only consider what could happen; things are safe when dangerous things are unlikely. Am I more likely to be killed or injured by gazing through a window at a thunderstorm than driving a car while using a phone? –  Gabe Jul 28 at 16:00
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@Gabe The question that was asked wasn't "How likely is this to happen?". I'd suggest you open your own question. You're more likely to get an answer that way. –  MiniRagnarok Jul 28 at 16:14
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@MiniRagnarok: If you interpret every "is it safe to do X" question to mean "is it impossible to be killed or injured while doing X" then the answer will always be "no", so the only reasonable interpretation is "will I be less likely to be killed or injured doing X than other everyday activities". If I am more likely to be injured from walking away from the window (due to a heart attack or falling) than from a possible lightning strike, then it's actually safer to stand there than to move away. –  Gabe Jul 28 at 16:32
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The question is " Is there any scientific basis for that idea of being hit by lightning when staying close to doors or windows?". There is a scientific basis for the idea; whether it is statistically useful advice belongs in a separate question (possibly on statistics SE?) –  Colin Pickard Jul 28 at 21:01
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@ColinPickard: The OP is trying to figure out if their cultural belief about standing near windows during thunderstorms has any basis in fact. It makes far more sense to me to answer based on how likely it is to be injured rather than how it happens (how lightning goes through windows is more of a physics question). –  Gabe Jul 28 at 21:21

Rather old quote:

This is obviously some strange usage of the word "safe" that I hadn't previously been aware of.

Arguments about lightning vs. glass notwithstanding, storms are violent things and glass is both the most fragile thing in your house and the most dangerous when it breaks. Sofas, for example, do not turn into meter-long knives falling off the wall if they get hit with something.

Modern double-pane windows are also rather thin ( heavy glass costs more and tints / distorts the view ) and thus will break easier if hit by flying debris or a falling tree branch. This may not apply if you live in the gulf states (or a high crime area) and have laminated windows - like a car windshield they don't shatter easily.

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In many cases it appears that tempered glass must be used to comply with current US building codes. In addition to being several times a strong, when it shatters it breaks into "crumbles" instead of "daggers"; making it much less likely to cause severe injury. Unless I'm overlooking a restriction it appears that "Top edge is greater than 36” above floor" would cover most residential windows. discountdw.com/p-6176-when-to-use-tempered-safety-glass.html –  Dan Neely Jul 29 at 17:52
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Maybe you are right but on this site we need you to show your evidence. Add some links to evidence to make a good answer. –  matt_black Jul 29 at 20:19
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For a reference to what should be common sense I refer you to your window. Put your nose against it, have someone outside toss a brick. –  paul Jul 30 at 6:28
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The quote is from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Ford and Dent are onboard a Vogon ship. Ford: "We're safe ... We're in a small galley cabin, in one of the spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet.". Arthur: "Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word safe that I wasn't previously aware of." –  Peter Mortensen Jul 30 at 9:43

protected by Sklivvz Jul 28 at 21:04

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