Hundreds of people are struck by lightning yearly in the United States, so it may be understandable that I was a little concerned the other day when a storm broke out as I was talking on the phone with a friend. My immediate reaction was to hang up! After all, I have always been told you can get struck by lightning while on the phone. But then I thought, “Wait, I’m on a cordless phone. So does that warning still hold true?” Over the years I have heard many stories about the dangerous force of lightning. I have to wonder, though, which of those stories are factual, and which are just urban legend…I thought I’d explore the six most common:
1. Never talk on the phone during a thunderstorm.
Fact: Lightning can strike the phone line outside the house and travel through every phone on the line. If you are talking on the phone, you will be struck. The exceptions are cordless phones and cell phones because you are not in contact with any wires that run outside. This same wire danger also holds true for appliances such as computers and televisions…so avoid using them during storms, too.
2. Never bathe or shower during a thunderstorm.
Fact: Metal pipes are excellent conductors of electricity. While the odds of being struck this way are very small, there are 10 to 20 people in the United States shocked annually while bathing, using faucets, or handling appliances during storms. This danger is not as great today as it was in the past because PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is often used for indoor plumbing in contemporary construction. If you are not sure what your pipes are made of, wait out the storm.
3. The safest place to be during a thunderstorm is inside a car.
Fact: According to the National Weather Service, the only safe place to be during a storm is inside a safe building or vehicle. A safe vehicle is described as any fully-enclosed, metal-topped vehicle (such as a hard-topped car, minivan, bus, or truck).
4. If trapped outside during a thunderstorm, lie flat on the ground.
Fact: Lying flat actually increases your chance of being struck by ground current. If you are caught outside during a thunderstorm, keep moving toward a safe shelter…quickly.
5. Lightning always strikes the tallest object.
Fact: Not always, but in most cases. This is because tallest object is most attractive, meaning it is the easiest path for the lightning to take.
6. Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning CAN strike the same place more than once. In fact, places like the Empire State Building get struck 100 times a year!
Well, that’s some shocking news!! It would seem those warnings are not all just “old wives’ tales” – and the ones that turn out to be false are even more important to recognize as such! Understanding the dangers of lightning is vital to avoid being injured, or even killed. So, if you are outside during a storm, be sure to get to a safe building or vehicle. Once you’ve found shelter, stay off corded phones, stay away from electrical appliances and plumbing, and wait out that storm!