Summer storms have hit the U.S. hard this year. In just the past week, lightning has killed a 15-year-old girl swimming in Georgia, caused a seven-foot gouge on a Florida highway, and set a house on fire in Maryland. While nature is largely out of our control, there are a few things you should and shouldn’t do to keep yourself safe during a storm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that there is one common, seemingly insignificant behavior you should never do in your house during a thunder and lightning storm. To make sure you’re not putting yourself at risk, read on.
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The CDC says you shouldn’t use any water during a storm because lightning can travel through plumbing. According to the agency, this includes showering, bathing, washing dishes, and washing your hands. Plumbing expert Ray Brosnan tells Best Life that “if lightning strikes, the electrical current will follow the path it finds with the least resistance all the way down to the ground. That means if your body is the best conductor in the vicinity, it’ll travel through you too.”
If lightning hits your house, it will likely pass through any metal pipes, especially those filled with water, because both metal and water are excellent conductors of electrical currents, explains Brosnan. Showering is especially risky because your whole body is wet. “If you’re showering during a lightning storm, you are at risk. Basically, when you are wet, the natural resistance your body has to lightning is slashed in half,” says Brosnan.
While it’s a rare occurrence, Mark Dawson, COO of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, warns that “if you are touching something that is connected to metal piping at the same instant that lightning strikes, such as a metal faucet, shower head, or other plumbing appliance, then you are at risk of electrocution.”
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Plumbing isn’t the only part of your house putting you at risk during a lightning storm. The CDC says you should avoid using corded phones, computers, and other corded electronic equipment, as they are conductors of electricity.
The CDC also says to stay away from windows and doors, but remain inside, off of porches and balconies. As the National Weather Service explains, “Buildings with exposed sides are NOT safe (even if they are “grounded”). These include beach shacks, metal sheds, picnic shelters/pavilions, carports, and baseball dugouts. Porches are dangerous as well.”
Additionally, you should never lie down on a concrete floor or lean against a concrete wall during a storm. That’s because concrete is poured on top of metal decking, which could conduct electricity. “Lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring,” the CDC says.
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According to StatPearls, an estimated 24,000 people die annually as a result of a lightning-related injury, with about 40 of these deaths occurring in the U.S., although this is likely underestimated. There are approximately 400 non-deadly lighting injuries annually in the U.S. As many as 74 percent of people who survive a lightning strike have a form of permanent disability following the incident. The CDC says lightning injuries include “blunt trauma, neurological syndromes that are usually temporary, muscle injuries, eye injuries (‘lightning-induced cataract’), skin lesions, and burns.”
The large majority of victims, 80 percent, are men. Most incidents in the U.S. occur between May and September in the afternoon or early evening. StatPearls notes that most of these incidents are avoidable.
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