Under skies punctuated by lightning bolts, Tom Clarke and Callum Robinson both found the net within six first-half minutes before Jordan Hugill added a late third to earn Simon Grayson's side just their second league victory of the season.
For the Bluebirds, their winless run on their travels extended into double figures in all competitions.
There were plenty of 'oohs' and 'aahs' in the crowd early on, although aside from admiring Anders Lindegaard's save from Anthony Pilkington's effort, they were reserved for the intermittent lightning strikes that arrived.
Heavy rain had been falling since an hour before kick-off and it was no surprise to see Cardiff goalkeeper Ben Wilson struggling in the conditions as he almost let an Aiden McGeady shot squirm out of his reach.
Wilson was not the only player in red making errors as Declan John's misplaced pass presented Preston with a two-on-one opportunity they failed to make the most of, but it was the keeper's next mishap that ultimately led to the opening goal.
Form Marnick Vermijl's long clip forward Wilson failed to claim the ball with Clarke under him and, as had been the case with Claudio Bravo in the Manchester derby at the weekend, he was punished as the hosts' captain smashed in his first goal since November 2014.
A bad half got worse for Cardiff and Wilson as Robinson made it 2-0 by finishing off a solo run down the left when he steered a left-footed shot across the keeper's body and into the far corner.
Bluebirds boss Paul Trollope made two half-time changes, withdrawing John and Emyr Huws for Craig Noone and Peter Whittingham, and they did improve after the resumption.
However, they almost fell 3-0 behind before even mustering their first second-half attack as Paul Gallagher's free-kick clipped the top of the crossbar from 25 yards out.
Trollope's substitutions did have an impact as Noone's shot from distance was pushed away by Lindegaard, while Whittingham's corner would have been bundled in by Aron Gunnarsson had Greg Cunningham not been alert.
Lindegaard saved again from Pilkington and Sean Morrison headed over, yet Cardiff were unable to pull a goal back that would have at least unsettled the home side.
Preston looked dangerous on the counter too, with Cunningham forcing Wilson into a near-post save and Robinson and McGeady both going close from distance, and they found a third to put the game to bed two minutes from time as Hugill cut in off the left before bending a brilliant effort into the top corner.