The old superstition that lightning can strike you standing in the shower is true, but that’s not the worst of it, says NOAA lightning expert John Jensenius.
Lightning can also hit you on the toilet, he says.
“There have been documented incidents of people injured on toilets,” Jensenius told McClatchy. “It (lightning) went through the pipes and through the water. If lightning strikes your home, it often finds its way into the plumbing.”
This matters now in the Carolinas because August is a peak month for lightning strikes and both states rank high nationally for the number of strikes per square mile, he says.
North Carolina averages 426,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes a year or nine per square mile, he says. South Carolina averages 360,000 strikes a year, or about 12 strikes per mile, he says.
While most lightning strikes occur outdoors, Jensenius says, “all recent indoor lightning incidents in substantial buildings with wiring and plumbing have led to injuries.”
That’s because lightning is easily conducted for “long distances in wires or other metal surfaces,” including pipes, says the National Weather Service.
“Anyone in contact with anything connected to metal wires, plumbing or metal surfaces that extend outside is at risk,” NOAA says. “This includes anything that plugs into an electrical outlet, water faucets and showers, corded phones, and windows and doors.”
And even if the pipes are non-metal, the current can travel through the water, Jensenius says.
As for people who take shelter in a bathtub or shower during a bad storm, you can be struck by lightning even without the water running, he says.
A 2009 meteorological study by researcher Ronald L. Holle about indoor lightning injuries revealed people had been hit in the shower, on the toilet, using the sink and while operating a washing machine.