Lightning cannot directly strike you’re inside your home. But the electricity produced by a lightning strike can travel through conductive surfaces such as wires and pipes within your house. If you happen to be touching one of theses wires or pipes (think landline telephone or shower) you can be electrocuted.
Lightning is a master of trickery and can do some pretty strange things. Just remember though, the odds of you being struck by lightning inside a building during a thunderstorm are considerably worse than winning the Powerball lottery.
Lightning has no mass and defies the laws of gravity. It can zig-zag all over the place by going up, down, sideways, forwards and backwards. It travels great distances, sometimes as much as 70 miles! Adding to its mystique, lightning will travel along the path of least resistance, which can span hundreds of feet along conductive surfaces not quite visible to you or I. Why is this important?
Think about what runs into and all around the inside of your house. There are conductive copper pipes bringing the water into your house from outside. There are solid gauge copper wires leading to every wall outlet, light switch, and electrical appliance in your house that attach to a very tall utility pole or one of those large green boxes somewhere on your street. There are copper telephone wires running to every phone jack, again from a utility pole or some other metal box on your street. There are copper coaxial cables running from your satellite dish or cable TV provider. All of these things conduct electricity and start outside your house.
Let us suppose a lightning strike hits a utility pole down the street from your house, or tree right out front. The lightning quickly follows the path of least resistance, which by the way, we have no way of knowing and may not be obvious, but we do know copper wires and copper pipes are conductive. As the electricity races down the wires, it arcs onto the telephone wires which run into your house. If the grounding system on you telephone wires is broken or not adequate, the electric current from the lightning strike can make it to the person on the other end of the phone.
In addition to outdoor fatalities caused by lightning, a number of people are injured indoors every year, including individuals who are using their landline telephone during a thunderstorm.
Copper pipes providing city water also run into each house, but they are buried underground. However, it’s possible lightning could strike above ground, arc to the pipes, and then travel through the water to the unsuspecting person taking a shower or a bath. To be on the safe side, it’s probably not a good idea to partake in either of these activities during a thunderstorm.
Don’t worry about the natural gas lines running into your house. Those are made of iron, which is not conductive.
From my own personal experience, I can say with certainty that lightning is unpredictable. When I lived in North Carolina, the homeowners right behind us had their house hit by lightning. It went right through the top of their wooden roof creating a 2×2 foot hole. It must of flashed to the electrical wiring in the attic because it blew up every electrical appliance plugged into a wall outlet. The wiring inside the walls vaporized, blowing out chunks of drywall and left black acrid scorch marks in their place. About 35 feet from the front of their house was a utility pole and their house was surrounded by 60 foot pine trees. That day, the path of least resistance didn’t include any of those taller objects, but instead was an asphalt shingle roof. Here is a link to some pictures of another house unlucky enough to be struck by lightning.
Just remember, the safest place to be during a thunderstorm is in your house and the odds of being struck by lightning are far worse than winning the Powerball lottery. If you happen to live in a part of the country that experiences a lot of thunderstorms, a good investment might be some sort of lightning protection device such as a properly grounded lightning rod or surge arrestor. However, simply staying off the landline phone and not taking a shower during a thunderstorm would be an even better idea.
Other Lightning Myths
- Do Lightning Rods Attract Lightning?
- Can Lightning Crash an Airplane?
- Can Lightning Be Used As a Source of Power?
- Can Lightning Strike The Same Place Twice?
- Do My Car Tires Protect Me From Lightning?