There is a storm outside! Can I shower?
June 10, 2009 7:55 PM   Subscribe

Am I safe showering during a thunder and lightening storm?

My mom always scared me growing up, telling us no showers during a thunderstorm. She also kept us off the land lines. Did she really think we could get electrocuted in our bathtub or by talking on the phone? Needless to say, the neurosis has stuck with me now that I am an adult and I want to make sure my mom was just crazy.
posted by boulder20something to Science & Nature (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you may not want to shower during a thunderstorm if you think the power might go out and you could slip and fall in the dark. Or you could just not want to get caught naked and soaking wet in a darkened place.
I've never heard of the water inside a shower increasing your electrocution risk, though.
posted by ishotjr at 8:00 PM on June 10, 2009

My mom used to say the same thing. To this day, I can't set a foot in my shower if it's storming. Mythbusters covered it and said it was "plausible" to be electrocuted.
posted by Ugh at 8:01 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

We had a corded phone zapped during a thunderstorm. It still worked afterwards, but I wouldn't want to have been holding it.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:01 PM on June 10, 2009

In the real world, the odds of being harmed this way are extremely minute. But it is not unheard of. Ron Holle, a former meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who tracks lightning injuries, estimates that 10 to 20 people in the United States are shocked annually while bathing, using faucets or handling appliances during storms. “There are a ton of myths about lightning,” he said, “but this is not one of them.”NY Times article
posted by knave at 8:06 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know someone who was on the phone when the line was hit by lightning. She wasn't badly hurt but it did burn her head and knock her out of the chair she was sitting in.
posted by fshgrl at 8:10 PM on June 10, 2009

My best friend and I were on the phone during a storm when I was a teenager and she got shocked so yes it happens.
posted by effluvia at 8:15 PM on June 10, 2009

I wouldn't make myself late for work just because of a thunderstorm, but otherwise I would probably wait a few minutes until at least the worst of it had blown over. The risk is low but not zero. I think the danger is more theoretical than actual as I have never heard of an actual case and can not find one on google. As a kid growing up though there was a big lightning strike on some trees across the street and a woman in the house saw a flash of lightning from that strike come through the window and go across the room. It may also have gone through our house as we had some damage in our basement that day that otherwise could not be explained (cracked window, cracked aquarium). Statistically, almost all lightning victims are outside, although landline phones do seem to be susceptible. Stick with a cordless or cell.
posted by caddis at 8:57 PM on June 10, 2009

I got zapped by a landline once during a storm. I've seen sparks fly from phones, during them, too.

I can't figure out the bath/shower thing though.
posted by bensherman at 9:38 PM on June 10, 2009

Enviroment Canada says this about lightning, and ends the page with "But don't tempt fate. Just postpone that hot bath, telephone call or last bit of ironing."
posted by angiep at 10:59 PM on June 10, 2009

It can totally happen! What you really have to worry about is the older copper pipes conducting. Of course water can conduct too, but compared to metal...
posted by Black_Umbrella at 11:03 PM on June 10, 2009

This was gospel back in the 40s and early 50s. Could there have been a hazard back when the national electrical code did not require a separate ground circuit?
posted by Raybun at 4:01 AM on June 11, 2009

You are just as likely to be struck by lightning indoors, but less likely to be killed. You are much more likely to be killed by lightning if you are male. (Remember, it was your mother who told you to be careful, not your father).

Approximately one half of the lightning incidents affecting people happened inside a building, with one quarter of indoor incidents involving the telephone.

All the fatalities during 1993 to 1999 occurred outdoors.

Males accounted for four out of every five deaths.
(UK statistics)
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:25 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Where is asavage?

Mythbusters confirmed the dangers of this.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:44 AM on June 11, 2009

You're more likely to get struck by lightning in the shower than attacked by a shark while swimming. However, you are much, much more likely to be injured in an auto accident.
So swimming, driving, showering .... your call on what chances to take.
posted by forforf at 6:54 AM on June 11, 2009

I remember a report on our local news some years back about someone who had been washing their hands during a storm and got a good shock. Unfortunately, this was before the television station put all their stories in archives on the Internet and I'd never be able to verify it. It scared the crap out of me, though.

I think it largely depends on where you live. If you live in an area (like me) where houses are some of the tallest objects on the ground, then it's probably more of a danger. In my house, we've had phones blown out and seen flashes around the edges of rooms. My mom's computer was struck once. We opened up the case and the inside bits had actually melted a little.
posted by bristolcat at 7:11 AM on June 11, 2009

In a recent-ish episode of Quirks and Quarks, this was their "Fact or Fiction" question. The scientist on the phone said yes, you can absolutely be electrocuted in the shower, and on the phone as well, during a lightning storm.
posted by dreadpiratesully at 7:39 AM on June 11, 2009

Man, I am sad to find out that this old wives' tale is actually true.

Um, not that I ever tried showering during a storm or anything.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:44 AM on June 11, 2009

My wife is so spooked by this that she yells at me if I pick up the cordless phone during a rainstorm.

Nope, no *rimshot* here: she really does. But I love her.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:41 AM on June 11, 2009

I got shocked while using a computer plugged directly into the wall during a thunderstorm. (My computer was less fortunate.) It happened in the basement, away from windows...same place I'd go if there was ever a tornado.
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:09 PM on June 11, 2009

I was struck by lightning through a melted power strip (it had previously been used outside and gotten damp, or something, and it was no longer grounded). I touched it and lightning bounced up my forearm and made a black zigzag up my arm. I jerked back so hard I bruised myself HARD hitting the floor and my right hand was swollen for 3-4 days and blackened.

It was seriously fucked up and painful. But I have no scarring whatsoever. I've been on fire twice now, actually.
Both accidents.

BTW if that ever happens to you, burn jel, xanax, and a frozen beer coozie are just as effective as the emergency room.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:22 PM on June 11, 2009

I've SEEN someone be jolted across the room by a shock while washing up during a thunderstorm. he wasn't badly hurt but was quite shaken. and i've been in the next room when the same thing happened to someone else.
posted by kumonoi at 3:45 PM on June 11, 2009

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