Whenever the sounds of thunder rumbled in the distance, my mom would always forbid anyone in the house from taking a shower. Why? She was afraid we would be struck by lightning. “C’mon Mom,” we would say. “That doesn’t happen.” It sounded like an old wives' tale.
It turns out that Mom was right. Though the chance is small, if you're near water or metal appliances, you can be affected if lightning strikes close to your house. When lightning hits, it travels along anything metal. This includes piping and wiring if lightning strikes the ground. That electrical current can travel along through your pipes into your house, and if you are standing in water, washing dishes or touching the washing machine you’re going to get it. Oh, and did I mention that tap water carries electrical-conducting impurities?
Of course, you are way more likely to get struck by lightning if you're outside, since there is no safe place to hide. Last year, 20 people were killed by lightning and 82 more were injured. A few of those people were indoors. As cataloged by StruckbyLightning.org, Maurice Hurt was washing his hands in his school’s water fountain during art class. “I heard a big boom and then I felt electric go through my hand, and then it went up my arm," the 14-year-old student said. There were more recorded cases as well involving people inside, not out. Of course, it is an extremely small chance, but a real threat nonetheless.
To protect yourself during a storm, do not go outdoors. If you are outdoors, seek shelter (crouching down will not save you), but not in concrete, because it contains metal bars that conduct the lightning, or trees (which are magnets for lightning). Once indoors, avoid water, electronics, corded phones (cell phones are OK), wires and windows. Wait 30 minutes from the last clap of thunder to go back to these activities.
As for debunking other lightning myths, planes and cars are safe; the metal conducts the currents away from you (but rubber tires will not protect you, FYI). Lightning can strike the same place twice and touching a person who’s been electrocuted won’t affect you. Stay away from windows indoors mostly because the wind from a storm can cause glass to break, but also because lightning can come in through an open window or cracks in the window.
Just like mama said, put those dishes down during the next storm. It’s the safest place for you. Hey, like we need an excuse to avoid doing dishes...
TL; DR: You can get struck by lightning indoors, so avoid water, electrical appliances and concrete during a thunderstorm.