Rain check: Never shower or do dishes during a thunderstorm

October 11, 2018

Now that “100-year storms” are gaining frequency—and seemingly “liquidating” populated areas about every 100 days, rather than centuries apart—it’s more important than ever before to know how to stay safe.

Most of us rapidly take refuge inside when we hear thunder, and that’s smart. Indeed, John Jensenius, the National Weather Service’s top lightning safety expert, reports that 64% of all storm fatalities occur when people are outside—swimming, beach-going, boating, and fishing.

But did you know that lightning can still shock you if it strikes and sends electricity through the pipes and water in your home?

Recently, Country Living interviewed Jensenius, and learning that we need to stay away from plumbing. That includes the bathtub and the shower, as well as the sinks in your home.

“Certainly showers would be dangerous, it would be dangerous to be washing your hands or washing dishes,” Jensenius said. “Just avoid those any time you can hear thunder.”

But it’s not just metal pipes that should take all the blame. Jensenius notes that, since the impurities in tap water can also conduct electricity, plastic pipes won’t protect you from these dangers.

“Water can conduct electricity as well,” Jensenius told the lifestyle magazine. “We see that on the outside where lightning strikes something and if there are puddles around, it can easily electrocute somebody nearby the puddle.”

However, how your house is grounded can affect just how badly a lightning strike affects your plumbing, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski also told the magazine.

“When a house is built, it should be built so that when your electricity comes in, it’s grounded to your house,” said. “If your house is grounded to separate rods that are basically stuck down into the ground, then that’s a bit safer because nothing is attached to the plumbing.”

To find out whether your home’s electrical system is grounded to the plumbing system or not, contact an electrician.

Research contact: wrn.feedback@noaa.gov

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