Is it Safe to Shower During a Thunderstorm? Here's What Experts Say

Turns out, mom was right about this one.

What's the deal with the claim that you can't take a shower or bath during a thunderstorm? Turns out, there's a real risk to your health there. Here's what to know about why you should skip shower time if there's a thunderstorm going on outside—and what you can do instead.

Lightening's Path

Thunder and lightning come together during a thunderstorm. Lightening can be especially dangerous. Lightning is basically a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere between clouds, the air, or the ground, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Most lightning flashes made by storms start within a cloud. If it's going to strike the ground, a channel of energy develops downward toward the earth's surface. When the lightning gets a hundred yards or so off the ground, objects like trees and bushes and buildings start sending up (invisible) energy sparks to meet it, NOAA explains. When one of those sparks connects with the downward developing channel, a huge electric current surges rapidly down the channel and you get a ground surge.

Here's where your health comes into play.

Lightning can affect people in a number of ways, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • from a direct strike (when you're directly hit by lightning, it is often fatal)
  • a contact injury (where lightning hits something you're touching)
  • a ground current (when lightning strikes the ground, and the ground current passes from the strike point, through the ground, and into you)

About 10% of people struck by lightning die, usually from a heart attack, the CDC says. You can also get serious injuries like blunt trauma, neurological syndromes, muscle injuries, eye injuries, skin lesions, and burns.

Lightening and Your Shower

Scary fact: Lightning can travel through your pipes and water —and strike you while you're showering.

"The plumbing and other metal in our homes can serve as a conduit for electrical current," Jeffrey A. Andresen, PhD, professor of geography, environment, and spatial sciences at Michigan State University, told Health. "If you are extremely unlucky and in contact with some of the plumbing or other metal in your home and lightning strikes, you could be seriously injured, or worse, as electricity passes through the metal," Anderson said.

But it's not just the metal that's an issue: Water can carry electrical currents from lightning, too, lightning expert Mary Ann Cooper, MD, professor emerita of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told Health.

So, basically, showering in a thunderstorm leaves you open to a double-whammy of electricity that can travel through your pipes and the water in it to shock you while you're just trying to clean up.

Why does this all happen? The lightning is trying to find a path to the ground, Jeffrey Peters, severe weather program coordinator and lightning safety expert at NOAA, told Health. "If lightning strikes a home directly or enters the building through the wiring, plumbing, or landline phone wire, the electricity will follow a path of least resistance through the wires or plumbing to reach the ground," Peters explained—and sometimes you can get in the way of that path.

Symptoms

If you did happen to shower during a thunderstorm and lightning struck, you could be at risk of numbness and tingling, passing out, getting burns from the heat of the water, having your heart stop, or even dying, Nicholas Kman, MD, an emergency medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Health.

Joseph Dwyer, PhD, a professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire, agreed. "It is possible for lightning to kill someone taking a bath or shower, so the smart choice is not to risk it."

Dr. Kman said, "I've been an ER physician for 13 years, and I have not seen someone struck by lightning in their house." Still, Dr. Kman advised, you're making a risk-benefit analysis where you have something minor like getting clean on one end and the possibility of serious injury or death on the other.

Other Risks During a Thunderstorm

It's also important to remember these risks aren't specific to showers or baths during a thunderstorm—you really have to stay away from anything that has to do with pipes when you see lightning or hear thunder outside. "People need to stay away from all plumbing in their home during a thunderstorm," Peters said. "This includes not taking or doing the following: A shower, bath, washing your hair at the sink, or a sponge bath," added Peters

Recommendations

The rule: If you hear thunder in the distance, don't try to rush to get a quick shower in. "If you can hear thunder, then you are close enough to the storm to have lightning reach your location, even though it may not be raining at your home," Peters said. "Lightning can strike up to three to 10 or more miles away from the parent storm," added Peters.

Getting injured from showering during a thunderstorm is not something that happens a lot, but it can. "Is it common? No, but it is possible," said Cooper. "There are no absolute safety guarantees except by complete avoidance," Cooper cautioned.

Dwyer said you should even avoid washing your hands or doing the dishes during a thunderstorm. If you absolutely have to clean yourself, it's best to wipe down with a bathing or makeup wipe, or using a splash of water from a water bottle.

Experts generally recommend waiting for 30 minutes after you last hear thunder before taking a shower or bath, just to be safe. "Sometimes thunderstorms can save up a big one for the end, and so you don't want to be part of that grand finale," Dwyer said.

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