On August 13, Donald Korstad and his wife Margaret were driving on Highway 23 towards Willmar, Minnesota, when Margaret noticed her hair was sticking up.
Moments later, the Advocate Tribune reports, their GMC Envoy was filled with a bright, white light followed by a loud bang.Screenshot/CNN
Margaret told the Tribune:
“I had noticed that my hair was standing up […] It sounded like somebody was shooting a shotgun inside our car.”
A bolt of lightning had struck the vehicle. The automatic airbags deployed on the driver’s side, and the couple pulled over to assess the damage.Nathan Vaughn/FlickrCC
The lightning had struck the antenna, which destroyed the antenna and left burn marks on the vehicle. The windshield was shattered, and the two tires on the driver’s side were blown out. Fortunately, the couple escaped without injury.
Donald wrote on his Facebook page that other drivers saw a large cloud of black smoke emerge from under the vehicle immediately after the lightning struck. The Tribune also reported about the witnesses’ testimony.
In 2014, CNN reported that a similar vehicular lightning strike took place in Alberta, Canada, with a couple inside. The incident was captured by a nearby surveillance camera.
In an interview with Dearly, Donald said he didn’t take a picture of his GMC Envoy before it was towed away:
“I didn’t. It really did not look that spectacular […] The most expensive damage would be the deployed airbags and the electronics being fried.”
The couple is still waiting to hear if the insurance company will repair the damage to the GMC Envoy or consider it totaled.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), lightning strikes the U.S. about 25 million times each year. An estimated 47 people die from lightning strikes, but most of the fatalities don’t take place in vehicles.
NWS reports that most cars have metal cages that will distribute the lightning’s energy around the outside of the vehicle and protect the riders from harm:
A typical cloud-to-ground, actually cloud-to-vehicle, lightning strike will either strike the antenna of the vehicle or along the roofline. The lightning will then pass through the vehicle’s outer metal shell, then through the tires to the ground.
Livescience notes that while most car frames will keep vehicle occupants safe, it is recommended that drivers pull over during rainstorms, turn off the vehicle, roll up the windows, and keep hands away from metallic objects.
Additionally, National Geographic explains that Margaret’s hair-raising experience was actually a good physical indication that electrical charges were in the area:
If your hair stands up in a storm, it could be a bad sign that positive charges are rising through you, reaching toward the negatively charged part of the storm. That’s not a good sign! Your best bet is to get yourself immediately indoors.
The safest place to be during a thunderstorm is indoors. But if you happen to be caught in the rain while inside your vehicle, you might want to consider pulling over.