7 Things Not to Do — Really — During a Thunderstorm
Is it truly not okay to take a shower or talk on the phone? A UL safety expert explains
The safest place to be during a thunderstorm is indoors, no question. But you may not be quite as protected as you think within the shelter of your own home.
About one-third of lightning strike injuries occur indoors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So yes, it really is important to follow the rules you’ve probably heard about not taking a shower, etc., during a thunderstorm.
“Sometimes you hear stories where lightning strikes a home and it's one bolt of lightning, but it takes out the TV in one place, it damages the furnace somewhere else — it just goes everywhere and does a lot of overall damage to everything that’s connected,” says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL.
So, when the clouds start rumbling, break out a board game, grab a good book or fire up your tablet (using battery power) because you shouldn’t do any of these:
Take a shower. If lightning strikes your house, it can travel along the water pipes — and potentially through you while you shower. “Your water pipes are just another route for lightning to go where it wants to go, which is back into the ground,” says Drengenberg.
Wash dishes in the sink. This isn’t the time to catch up on chores around the house unless it’s dusting or folding clothes. Since lightning can travel through the plumbing, stay away from washing dishes, says Drengenberg.
Run the dishwasher or washing machine. Lightning can travel through water pipes, electricity or both. "You likely would not be hurt if the dishwasher and clothes washer were running but you could be in the circuit if you were standing very close, loading or touching these appliances," says Drengenberg.
Use a corded phone. Don’t use a landline phone with a cord, as the wires it connects to may be up on a high pole somewhere outside — and if that pole is struck by lightning, your conversation could turn shocking fast. If you have to make a call, use your cellphone or a cordless phone.
Use your computer (if it’s plugged in). You should unplug your computer. Electrical wires are another path lightning can travel from outside to the inside of your house.
Don’t expect a surge protector to save your computer, either. “There's a misconception that if lightning strikes, a surge protector will take care of it. If lightning strikes your home, it could vaporize the whole surge protector along with all of your electronics,” says Drengenberg.
Watch TV. Sorry, TVs should be unplugged, too. Usually, if you're standing far enough away, a lightning strike that travels through the TV will not hurt you, but even minor lightning charges could damage your TV, says Drengenberg.
Equipping your house with a whole-house surge protector can help protect your appliances. "This does not protect from a direct lightning hit, but it will help prevent damage from stray surges from lightning or other sources," says Drengenberg.
Stand near open windows. If you open a window because there's a nice cool breeze, the heat from your house will come out and rise up to the sky. While rare, that could become yet another path for lightning to come into your house, says Drengenberg.
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