Hopefully, you know the saying "When thunder roars, go indoors." If there's lightning near your location, then you're not safe outside. But did you know that lightning can affect you inside as well? It's not entirely safe to shower in a thunderstorm or do other activities like wash dishes or talk on a landline phone, even inside your house.
On average, about 30 people in the United States are killed every year from lightning strikes and another 270 people are injured. Lightning can strike as much as 10 miles away from a storm, which is why it's so important that you go indoors during a storm even if it looks like the lightning is far away.
There are urban legends and old wives tales about lightning strikes happening inside a building, but the thing is, there's some truth to this story. Even inside, if you're connected to something that conducts electricity during severe weather, you're vulnerable to lightning. That means touching something that is plugged into a wall socket or engaging in a simple task like showering or washing dishes.
The National Weather Service states that lightning can enter a building in three ways: a direct strike, through the ground, and through anything that conducts electricity that extends outside the building like wires and pipes. Once lightning has hit a building, it can travel through wires and pipes, so your electrical system, landline phones, plumbing, and radio or television systems can conduct the electricity from lightning.
Accuweather talked to John Jensenius, who is a lightning safety specialist for the National Weather Service, about what things people should stay away from inside a building during a lightning storm.
"You just want to stay away from things that conduct electricity within the home," Jensenius said in the Accuweather report. "That would include both the wires and the plumbing, so in that particular case certainly showers would be dangerous, it would be dangerous to be washing your hands or washing dishes. Just avoid those any time you can hear thunder."
You might think that if your plumbing has plastic pipes instead of metal pipes, you're safe to shower in a thunderstorm or do other normal water-related household activities. That's not true, though. Water itself can conduct electrical current, and some of the impurities that are found in tap water are excellent conductors of electricity as well.
It also depends on how your house is grounded, which affects how electricity is conducted in your house. To know for certain, you'll want to talk with a qualified electrician. Even then, it makes things safer, but not 100 percent lightning proof.
Should you shower in a thunderstorm?
Here's the bottom line: Getting struck by lightning while inside a building is possible, though a rare occurrence. You can make it even rarer by following a few simple tips offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the government agency that runs the National Weather Service:
- Stay off corded phones (cell phones or cordless phones are okay).
- Don't touch electrical equipment such as computers or TVs (remote controls are fine).
- Avoid plumbing; don't wash your hands or take a shower in a thunderstorm.
- Stay away from windows and doors and stay off porches.
- Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.
- Protect your pets: Dog houses are not safe shelters and animals that are chained to trees or on metal runners are particularly vulnerable to lightning strikes.
- Do not touch electrical cords or unplug items during a thunderstorm.
Many weather apps have a feature built in that will tell you how far away the closest lightning strike is, so that even if it looks like blue sky where you are, you can keep an eye on possible storm danger. And if you don't have a NOAA certified weather radio, it's definitely worth it to keep you on top of any weather hazards coming your way.
This article was originally published on June 3, 2019.