(ORDO NEWS) — Although the chance of being struck by lightning is low, it is important to know how to stay safe during a thunderstorm. Around 24,000 people worldwide are killed by lightning each year and another 240,000 are injured.
Most people are familiar with the basic safety rules during thunderstorms, such as not standing under trees or near a window or talking on a corded phone (mobile phones are safe).
But did you know that you shouldn’t shower, bathe or wash dishes during a thunderstorm?
To understand why, you first need to know a little about how thunderstorms and lightning work.
There are two main elements that cause thunderstorms: humidity and rising warm air, which, of course, comes with DST. High temperature and humidity create a large amount of moist air that rises into the atmosphere, where it forms into a thunderstorm.
Clouds contain millions of drops of water and ice, the interaction of which leads to the appearance of lightning. Rising water drops collide with falling ice drops, transferring a negative charge to them and leaving a positive charge for themselves.
In a thunderstorm, the clouds act like huge Van de Graaff generators, separating positive and negative charges, creating huge charge separations inside the clouds.
As thunderclouds move over the earth, they generate an opposite charge in the earth, and this is what attracts the lightning strike to the earth. A thunderstorm seeks to balance its charges, and it does so by discharging between positive and negative areas.
The path of this discharge usually follows the path of least resistance, so highly conductive objects (such as metal) are more likely to be struck during a thunderstorm.
The most useful advice during a thunderstorm is this: When thunder rolls, go inside the house. However, this does not mean that you are completely protected from thunderstorms. There are some indoor activities that can be almost as risky as being outside during a thunderstorm.
Path of least resistance
Unless you’re sitting in an outdoor pool or showering in the rain, you’re incredibly unlikely to be struck by lightning. But if lightning strikes your home, electricity will take the path of least resistance to earth.
Things like metal wires or water in pipes provide a convenient path for electricity to land.
The shower has both of these things (water and metal), making it the perfect path for electricity.
It can turn a nice relaxing shower into something much less relaxing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends that people avoid all water activities during a thunderstorm – even washing dishes – to reduce the risk of electric shock.
There are other risks to watch out for during a thunderstorm. One of them, which may not seem obvious, is to lean on a concrete wall. Although concrete itself is not a conductive material, if it is reinforced with metal rods (called rebar), they can become a conductive path for lightning.
Also, do not use anything plugged into an electrical outlet (computers, TVs, washing machines, and dishwashers), as these can become a conductor for a lightning strike.
As a general rule, if you hear thunder in the distance, you are close enough to the storm for the lightning to reach you, even if it’s not raining.
Lightning strikes can occur up to 16 km from the location of the thunderstorm.
As a rule, half an hour after you heard the last roll of thunder, you can safely return to the shower.
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