You laughed when your mom kicked you out of the tub every time a thunderstorm rolled in, but did she have a point? Sorry… you owe her an apology. It turns out being warned away from the shower during a lightning storm isn’t an old wives’ tale after all. As Ron Holle, a former meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the New York Times: “There are a ton of myths about lightning… but this is not one of them.”
Are you likely to get hit by lighting in the shower? The chances are low. Still, there are unique risk factors associated with being in the shower should your home get hit by a lightning bolt. Plus, there are multiple ways for lightning to do a lot of bodily harm. Everyone should know how to stay safe in an electrical storm to avoid serious injuries.
What Kind of Damage Does Lightning Do, Anyway?
There’s a reason your mom was so worried you’d be zapped by lightning. You may not end up going full skeleton face like that burglar in Home Alone, but even an indirect hit poses a serious threat. A lightning strike can cause injuries to people up to 100 feet away from the direct hit. The heat and electrical charge from a lightning bolt can lead to burns, skin lesions, neurological problems, and muscle and eye injuries. Not only can lightning cause immediate death due to heart failure, but the National Weather Service points out that lighting can also lead to delayed death as the result of brain damage at the time of injury.
How does lightning cause these injuries? Direct strikes are less common than movies would have you believe; it’s more likely that you’ll be standing near a strike or touching a conduit if you do experience lightning-related injuries. Ground currents occur after every lightning strike, causing the earth to be electrified and travel toward a victim. Side flashes happen when the electricity bounces off an object (like a tree) and hits a victim. A contact injury refers to trauma resulting from touching an object, like a metal pole or your shower head, at the moment that an electrical current is passing through. Being in a shower puts you close to two primary risk factors related to lightning strikes: water and metal.
Risk Level of Showering in a Thunderstorm
Fortunately, the National Weather Service says that your chances of being hit by lighting in your lifespan are only about 1/15,000. Of those injured, only about 10% of victims die as the result of a lightning strike. Still, there are certain behaviors that can put you more at risk than others. According to the CDC, being in a shower is one of them. If you’re in the middle of a lightning storm, the CDC says you should not shower, bathe, or do dishes.
Here are some of the factors that make showering during an electrical storm a less-than-great idea:
- Metal is a strong electrical conductor. CDC says that the pipes in your home (as well as metal shower handles and showerheads) are excellent electrical conductors. In other words, if your satellite antenna gets struck with lighting on the roof, it could very well pass through your pipes and reach you in the shower.
- Water is another powerful conductor. Standing in water is just about the worst place you could be if an electrical charge enters the room through the pipes. Even washing your hands during a lightning strike could be dangerous, warns the CDC, so be careful around any water source in a serious storm.
- Lightning strikes can also cause a power surge damage or a fire. You want to be able to react to both of these emergencies. Being wet, naked, and disoriented puts you at additional risk should your home be struck and damaged during the next summer thunderstorm.
Lightning Storm Safety Tips
While the dangers of showering during an electrical storm may be slightly exaggerated by pop culture and grandparents everywhere, they aren’t a total myth. There are, however, many myths about the best way to avoid getting struck. Let’s break them down.
Myth 1: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Truth: According to the National Weather Service, lightning can absolutely strike the same place twice. Especially if the point of impact is tall, pointed, and/or metal. Some buildings are struck more than a dozen times each year. In other words, your safest move during a lightning storm isn’t to run toward the most recent strike site -- it could hit again at or near the same spot.
Myth 2: It’s actually safer to be outside during a lightning storm, since buildings are full of wires and metal appliances.
Truth: While you don’t want to be touching or immediately next to your plumbing during a lightning strike, being indoors is far safer than being outside. In fact, standing in an open space is the most dangerous place you can be. If you’re in your living room, the lightning will hit the roof and the metal fixtures in your home will transport the voltage; lightning always chooses the path of least resistance. When you’re outside, you may be the tallest thing within 100 feet and more likely to get hit.
Myth 3: Wearing rubber sole shoes or touching your car tires will protect you from getting hit by lightning.
Truth: Yes, it’s true that rubber is not a great conduit for electricity. But simply being in contact with rubber won’t completely protect you from lightning. If you’re in your car, close all the windows and skylights (even if it’s not raining) and try not to lean on any part of the vehicle’s metal frames.
Being in the shower during a lightning storm doesn’t present a significant threat, but it’s also the safest place to be. The metal pipes could serve as electrical conductors if your home gets hit with a bolt -- and you don’t want to be standing in water when that happens. If you are in a lightning storm, do not lie down on the ground or stand near a tree, but rather go indoors and stand away from the windows.