Should you avoid taking a shower or bath during a thunderstorm? Today we’ll see what the experts say and take a closer look at the possible dangers.
Showering or Bathing During a Thunderstorm
Intuitively it seems like a bad idea: You are sitting or standing in your bathtub or shower, covered with water that is being brought in from subterranean piping while an electrical storm is floating through the atmosphere and occasionally dispersing plasma channels that are hotter than the surface of the sun into the ground of the Earth.
Maybe it wasn’t just paranoia, anxiety, and an urban myth when your parents warned you not to take a shower or bath during that thunderstorm. Although it instinctively sounds like a bad idea, it is one of those bits of information that seems to be passed along through the same nebulous grapevine that give rise to urban myths and legends.
Nonetheless, this bit of advice appears to be true.
Warnings Against Bathing / Showering During a Thunderstorm
The following are collection of warnings and safety guides from around the internet.
- The National Weather Service – The National Weather Service is a government agency. They specifically warn the populace to avoid plumbing (including showering) during a thunderstorm: “Avoid plumbing. Do not wash your hands, take a shower or wash dishes.”
- The New York Times – The New York Times has a succinct article confirming the dangers of bathing and showering during a thunderstorm. The article contains a brief interview with Ron Holle, a former meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who tracked lightning causalities. He estimated that 10-20 people are electrocuted every year in the United States due to electricity traveling through plumbing during thunderstorms. Addressing the supposed urban legend of showering during a thunderstorm, he remarked, “There are a ton of myths about lightning, but this is not one of them.”
- Weather.com – A 2008 article on lightning awareness from The Weather Channel advises against showering or bathing during a thunderstorm. The article claims that lightning currents are capable of traveling through plumping.
- Indiana Public Media – Indiana Public Media provides public radio and television programming across the southern portion of Indiana. They recommend avoiding showering during a thunderstorm even if your house has insulated, plastic plumbing. The water within these pipes can still conduct electricity, stating, “…you never know where the plastic pipes hook up with metal fixtures.”
- Discovery Channel – The Mythbusters show on Discovery Channel performed an experiment to test whether or not it was dangerous to shower during a thunderstorm. They constructed a temporary house with grounded plumping, placed a ballistic gel mannequin with a heart monitor in the shower, and simulated lightning from an electrical testing facility. Although the heart monitor failed to measure the amount of current passing through the figure, 700,000 volts of electricity traveled through the plumbing and sparked a fire within the makeshift bathroom.
Watch a 2 minute clip from CBS 21 News on showering during a thunderstorm:
The expert in the video above notes, “When lightning strikes, the electrical current follows the path of least resistance, so the current will always jump to the better conductor. Metal, of course, is a great conductor of electricity. So if lightning strikes an unprotected house, chances are the current will travel through any metal pipes. Also, when you’re wet, the natural resistance of your body is cut in half, so being wet can make a difference between an unpleasant electrical shock and a deadly one.” The expert also notes that, while many modern houses use PVC piping, “you never know when the plastic pipes hook up with metal fixtures.”
Reports of Electrified Plumbing During Thunderstorms
- Observer-Reporter – August 18th, 1988. Eleanor Loux of Exeter, PA witnesses a bolt of electricity come out of her toilet while she was brushing her teeth during a thunderstorm. She describes the experience in the article: “I moved a little and saw what was like a ball of flame bouncing off the ceiling and the wall behind me – everything was so bright… I was never more terrified.” Eleanor was uninjured, but the article reports that bathroom tiles fell off the wall, a crack opened in the ceiling plaster, and charred rings appeared in her bathtub.
- Gainsville Sun – July 10th, 1989. An unidentified woman is reportedly taken to the hospital after lightning struck her home while she was taking a bath.
- The Mirror – June 14th, 2001. An archived article from The Mirror in the United Kingdom reports on a woman named Josephine Martine who was thrown from her bathtub during a thunderstorm due to a lightning strike to the home. Remarkably, she reportedly suffered no injuries.
- Topeka Capital-Journal – May 14th, 2008. A teenage girl by the name of Felicity Wishkeno is electrocuted while taking a shower during a thunderstorm. The article reports that she exited the shower and collapsed. Luckily, she spent two nights in the hospital and was released with only minor injuries to her leg.
As you can see from the Google Trends chart below, search history on this topic has peaked every summer since 2010.
It may seem like an urban legend, but bathing or showering during a thunderstorm can be dangerous. Although rare, people are killed and injured in this manner every year. Experts recommend avoiding any activities involving plumbing during a thunderstorm.
Updated September 13, 2016
Originally published August 2014