Don’t Sit on the Toilet During a Thunderstorm! - Carolina Country
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Don’t Sit on the Toilet During a Thunderstorm!

And other times Mama was right

By Donna Campbell Smith

Don’t Sit on the Toilet During a Thunderstorm!

Summer thunderstorms are common in eastern North Carolina, where I grew up. Mama was scared to death of lightning. Daddy tried to joke off her irrational fears, but Mama was seriously afraid of one of us being struck by lightning. When there was a crash of thunder Mama would cover her ears and close her eyes and sometimes draw up her knees in a sort of sitting-up, fetal position.

We had to turn off all electrical appliances. We couldn’t use the bathroom or run water because the metal pipes “attracted lightning.” Anything made of metal was to be avoided, including needles. So, we couldn’t sew, watch television or cook. About the only thing we could do was read or sit around talking and playing board games.

I didn’t inherit Mama’s seemingly irrational fear of thunderstorms, but I am a believer in not tempting fate by staying outdoors in one. And Mama’s fears were not all unfounded. Over the past 10 years, an average 31 people were killed by lighting each year in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The most likely times to be struck are in the summer months between two and four o’clock in the afternoon.

North Carolina ranked second highest in lightning-related casualties, including injuries and deaths, from 1959 to 2007, according to a study by the National Weather Service, with 186 recorded deaths during that 48-year period. More recent statistics show North Carolina remains in the top 10 for deaths by lightning.

The National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) recommends you plan evacuation and safety measures in advance when participating in any outdoor activity.

The National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) recommends you plan evacuation and safety measures in advance when participating in any outdoor activity. As soon as you hear thunder, activate your plan. Don’t wait until it starts to rain, because lightning often hits before it rains, according to NLSI. If you feel your hair standing on end, and/or hear a crackling noise, you are already in lightning’s field and must take immediate action.

In this situation get away from water, high ground and open spaces. Avoid all metal objects including fences, machinery, power lines and towers, and motors. Open sheds like picnic and rain shelters or under a lone tree will keep you from getting wet, but will not protect you from lightning. In 1961, eight people were killed by lightning while taking shelter under a tobacco barn in Clinton, which remains the largest number to be killed by a single bolt in the United States.

Old caves or abandoned mines are not safe havens either, according to NLSI. They can be deadly shelters because the walls could have conductive metals in them. Also keep in mind that jagged outcrops of rock are more likely to be hit than smooth surfaces.

If possible, find shelter in a substantial building or wait in your car for the storm to blow over. If those shelters are not available move to lower ground, preferably near a group of low trees. Immediately remove metal objects from your person, place your feet together, duck your head and crouch down low, in a baseball catcher’s stance, with your hands on your knees.

If you are indoors, there are also precautions you should take. It turns out my mother was right about avoiding electrical appliances and plumbing. The National Weather Service warns us to stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets. Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches. Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

Well, Mama was right in most of her safety instructions. I don’t wash dishes, take showers, or use the toilet during a thunderstorm. I unplug my computer and stay off the landline phone. Better safe than sorry. What do I do to while away the time during a thunder and lightning storm? Well, there is something cozy about curling up with a good book while Mother Nature does her thing outside. Mama’s warnings were not silly at all, and I am happy to take a break with a good book until it all blows over.

About the Author

Donna Campbell Smith is a Carolina Country contributing writer who lives in Franklin County.

Comments (3)

  • Very interesting and well-written article.

    Jenni |
    August 27, 2016 |

  • After reading this I am never going to use my phone in a thunderstorm.

    Anne Kim |
    January 14, 2018 |

    • You can but don't charge it lighting can travel to the wire thing and harm your phone

      Ez |
      July 01, 2021 |

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