It’s one of those things your mom tells you while you’re growing up: Don’t shower during a storm! It sounds like an old wives’ tale, something that can’t possibly be true. What’s the worst that could happen? The short answer: Very bad things.
“If the lightning strikes your house or some other part of the metal that you use to make your house, you could end up getting zapped in your shower,” says Sioux City meteorologist Katie Nickolaou. “Humans, as brilliant as we are, we decided to build pipes out of metal and of course metal conducts electricity.”
Even if you do have plastic pipes, lightning can also travel through the water inside, and come right out of your shower head while you’re taking a shower. “Metal is a more consistent [conductor] than water,” says Nikolaou. “Sometimes there are some pockets of air between the water, which loses the current. But if you have flowing water, it’s still possible for that electricity to be carried.”
This goes for all water in your home, by the way — you shouldn’t be washing your hands, or hand-washing dishes, or generally using your sink during a thunderstorm, either. And, most upsettingly of all, lightning can actually hit you while you’re using the toilet. “It’s not impossible,” she says. “Stranger things have most definitely happened, but [the toilet] is probably the safest option out of any of your appliances to be using, as long as you aren’t sitting in the water, which, if that’s the case, you have a whole other set of problems.”
Few people will ever be in a house that gets hit by lightning, but that’s not zero. In 2018, more than 75,000 people filed home insurance claims for damage caused by lightning. If it strikes your house, besides the dangers it poses to your plumbing, it could travel through your electrical wiring and fry anything that’s plugged into an outlet, especially complicated, delicate items like computers. It could also cause a fire — especially in your attic — that might take you a while to notice, which is obviously not good.
Don’t think you’re safe until it starts raining, either. Lightning can strike up to 10 full miles from a thunderstorm proper. If you hear thunder or see lightning at all, no matter how far away it seems, you’re extremely likely to be in range and should go inside, warns Nikolaou.
If you’re quaking in terror right now, well, we are too. But there is some hope… if your house has been properly grounded to prevent lightning coursing into your butt (or anywhere else). Modern houses usually have this taken care of thanks to modern safety guidelines, but if your home was built before 1950, chances are it’s vulnerable, which means you are, too.
The only way to know for certain is to have an electrician come check your house out. Until then, keep out of the shower anytime you see or hear a storm start brewing… and if you gotta go, hold it.