Did your caregiver ever scream at you during a thunderstorm to get out of the bath? Is it actually a dangerous pastime, or is it just an old wives' tale?
Well, it seems that there is a risk – and it is shockingly more dangerous than you may think.
What happens during a thunderstorm?
Firstly, a thunderstorm develops when there is an unstable atmosphere. According to NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, lightning is an electrical spark that occurs between the ground, clouds, and air. When lightning starts to develop, the air acts as an insulator between the negative and positive charges in the clouds, and between the cloud and the ground.
When the opposite charges have built up, the air insulation breaks and there is a rapid discharge of electricity – what we call lightning. The flash that you see in the stormy sky, is nature’s way of temporarily equalizing the charged regions of the atmosphere. This cycle will continue until the charges dissipate.
The lightning is what causes the booming sound of thunder. The energy from the lightning channel heats the air to around 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes the air to explode outward. This pressure decreases rapidly and this forms the sound of thunder.
When a lightning strike is about to occur on the ground, a channel develops towards the surface. When it is less than a hundred yards from the ground, tall objects will start sending sparks to meet it. When one spark connects to the downward channel, then an enormous electrical current surges down to the object that produced the spark.
How could lightning cause injury?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lightning can cause many different injuries with different mortality risks. Typically, 10 percent of people who are struck by lightning die, often from a heart attack.
A direct strike is often fatal. Other types of strikes are less death-inducing, such as contact strike (victim is touching a lightning-struck object), side flash (lightning bounces of an object and onto the victim), and ground current (lightning strikes the ground nearby and the current passes from the impact point, through the ground, to the victim).
Thunder can also cause injuries like burst eardrums or trauma if the victim falls down.
Is it dangerous to be in a shower during a thunderstorm?
Unless you are sitting in a bathtub outside or showering in the rain, you are unlikely to be hit by a direct strike. The biggest concern is if the lightning strikes a home directly, as plumbing and other metal can serve as an electrical current conduit. Typically, the lightning follows the path of least resistance, and that is normally through wires and plumbing. Therefore, it can travel through the pipes and strike you when showering.
Along with metal being a conduit, water can also carry electrical currents. This means that if you are in the shower or the bath, electricity could travel through the pipes and into the water, ruining that lovely relaxing bubble bath.
This is also reflected in advice from CDC, as they suggest that people stay out of the shower and away from plumbing during a thunderstorm. They also suggest that you should avoid washing dishes – so a great excuse to avoid that annoying chore.
It is generally advised that if you hear thunder, then you are close enough to have lightning reach your location, as lightning can strike 4.8 to 16 kilometers (3 to 10 miles) away from the parent storm. So often, it is only safe for you to get the bubble bath and candles out 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder, as sometimes the storm likes to save up one big lightning strike, so it (literally) goes out with a bang.
Has anyone ever been injured in a shower during a thunderstorm?
Overall, it is not likely you will get shocked during a storm while in a bath, but it is possible. It has been reported that 10-20 people in the United States are shocked annually while handling appliances, using faucets and... in baths. Also, Struckbylightning.org also reported that 33 percent of lightning fatalities were water-related.
So next time there is a thunderstorm, stay safe and don’t get in the water.