Is it okay to shower and do dishes during a thunderstorm?
The popular old wives' tale, debunked.
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Confession: I refuse to take a shower if it's storming. It's something that my grandma used to tell my mom who used to tell me—and it's something I'll probably tell my future kids one day, too. After all, I'm a firm believer that my mother knows best, so I live in fear that I'll get electrocuted if I step into the shower when there's lightning outside.
But how true is the popular old wives' tale? Is showering—or even something as simple as washing the dishes—actually a hazard? Yes, according to both the National Weather Service (NWS) and our senior scientist, Julia MacDougall. Here's what you ned to know about staying safe in a storm so you don't get struck by lightning.
Why it's dangerous to run water while it's storming
Water and metal (a.k.a what some pipes are made of) both conduct electricity. "If a house is struck by lightning, electricity travels most efficiently in conductive mediums, such as metal plumbing," Julia explains. "While you can't know if, when lightning strikes your house, it will actually make it to your pipes (as opposed to starting a fire or being absorbed by less conductive and more insulating material like wood or brick), you probably shouldn't take the risk."
Even if you have plastic pipes, the NWS warns you may not be completely out of danger. The electricity can still be conducted via the water inside of your pipes, causing you to be shocked or even electrocuted if you turn on the faucet.
How do I know when it's safe to use water during bad weather?
Lightning can strike from up to 10 miles away, so the NWS says that if you hear thunder, you're within striking distance and should avoid turning on your water. Wait until you no longer hear thunder before running your water. A good rule of thumb is to avoid using your sink or shower for 30 minutes after the storm passes.
You can also make your home safer by changing how your house is grounded. An electrician can make sure that your electrical system isn't grounded to the plumbing (which is something that contractors used to do when houses were built) and is instead grounded to rods that go into the soil.
Other household items you should avoid using in a thunderstorm
It isn't just your water that you should be worried about in the event of a lightning strike. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should also stay away from corded electronics, like your television, as electricity can travel through TV and radio signals. The same goes for any plugged-in appliances, like your coffee maker or toaster. You should also avoid concrete walls, floors, and anything else that conducts electricity (think metal or wires) to decrease your chances of getting struck by lightning.