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Bath Blast

Claim:   Lightning has injured people taking baths or showers during thunderstorms.

TRUE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, April 2006]

After a line of severe thunderstorms rolled through our town this evening, my wife and I were discussing some of the oft-given warnings about lightning, and specifically the one about not taking a shower when lightning is occurring nearby. I expressed my skepticism about that advice.

Has anyone ever been hit by lightning while showering? I read your article about people getting zapped while on the phone, which I'd heard about before. But in the shower? I don't know why I find this particularly unlikely — water is, after all, reputed to be a fine conductor of electricity — but I do.

Is it true it is dangerous to take a bath or shower in your home during a thunderstorm?
 

Origins:   Although this devastating force of nature (which kills an average of 58 people a year) usually claims its victims from those who are caught outside during thunderstorms, lightning has injured (and even killed) those who were indoors. People talking on landline telephones have
been hit, as have those who were standing in front of windows. Yet the electrical discharge mayhem doesn't end there — folks doing the dishes and taking baths and showers have also been harmed by bolts from the sky.

Lightning strikes into the ground near homes have sent devastating jolts up pipes and into sinks and bathtubs. Metal pipes used in household plumbing provide effective conduits for the massive electrical charges released by even a single bolt.

Such injuries are relatively uncommon because one has to be doing dishes or bathing or showering at the precise moment when a bolt hits. However, people have been injured in this fashion.
  • In May 2008, 15-year-old Falicity Wishkeno of Topeka, Kansas, was hit by lightning while taking a shower. Said Wishkeno, "Right when I got in the shower, I heard the thunder hit. I saw this big, white light. I jumped out of the bathtub and collapsed. I had trouble breathing, and I couldn't feel my legs at all. I felt all this pain in my legs and my whole body."
  • In November 2007, a bolt struck a teenager who was washing her hair at her home in Blandford, England. Said Abbie Jackson of the event, "It hit my wrist and basically lit up my arm. The showerhead flew out of my hand."
  • In October 2006, a woman in Croatia was struck by lightning while brushing her teeth just as lightning struck a pipe outside the her home. Said Natasha Timarovic of her experience, "I had just put my mouth under the tap to rinse away the toothpaste when the lightning must have struck the building. I don't remember much after that, but I was later told that the lightning had traveled down the water pipe and struck me on the mouth, passing through my body. It was incredibly painful, I felt it pass through my torso and then I don't remember much at all."
  • In June 2001, Josephine Martine of Deal, England, was blown out of her bath tub by a lightning bolt. The mother of three, who had been soaking in her bath tub during a thunderstorm, was catapulted naked through the air by the force of the bolt, landing on the other side of her bathroom. Said Martine, "I felt a huge kick in my hand and knew straight away it was electricity. In a split second I saw the water rippling. The kick of the electric shock was so powerful I was sort of thrown out of the bath. It was scary, but it happened very quickly."
  • In August 1988, as Eleanor Loux of Exeter, Rhode Island, brushed her teeth at her bathroom sink, she saw a bolt of lightning leap from her toilet. The resulting ball of fire then bounced off walls and the ceiling in her bathroom until it dissipated. Surprisingly, Loux was not injured. Her bathroom, however, was another story — the ceiling was cracked and the bathtub had charred rings in it. A utility pole outside her home had been hit by lightning, which sent the resulting charge through neighborhood power lines and metal water pipes.
As to how to remain safe indoors during a thunderstorm:
  • Stay away from windows, because lightning bolts can enter the home through cracks around the sides of windows.
  • Don't take baths or showers, brush your teeth, do dishes, or in any other way put yourself in contact with your plumbing.
  • Stay off landlines. Use a cell phone instead. Landline phones are the number one cause for injuries from lightning inside the home.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors and do not lean against concrete walls.
  • Don't touch electrical equipment or cords. That includes not touching the refrigerator or stove.
  • Keep windows and doors closed during electrical storms.
Last updated:   17 July 2011

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Sources:

    Anderson, Phil.   "Lightning Shocks Teen in Bathroom."
    Topeka Capital-Journal   10 July 1989.

    Dunn, Tom Newton.   "Million Volt Lightning Strike Blows Josephine Out of Bath."
    The Mirror.   14 June 2001.

    O'Connor, Anahad.   "The Claim: Never Bathe or Shower in a Thunderstorm."
    New York Times.   15 August 2006.

    Simons, Paul.   "Thunderstorms Can Make Lightning Strike Indoors."
    The Times [London]   23 November 2007   (Features, p. 98).

    Simons, Paul.   "The Hazards of Taking a Shower."
    The Times [London].   11 October 2007   (Features, p. 72).

    Observer-Reporter.  "Lightning Bolt From Bowl Narrowly Misses Woman in Her Bathroom."
    18 August 1988   (p. 5).

    Gainesville Sun.   "Woman Injured by Bolt of Lightning."
    10 July 1989.