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Hey Matt:

On a recent Sunday morning, a thunderstorm woke me up. I thought I would go peepee and return to bed. Once in the bathroom, it occurred to me that I once read you shouldn't use faucets during thunder storms. I assumed the electricity probably couldn't travel through porcelain, but who knows. It would be a horrible way to die. Although kind of cool in a way, to be found dead next to the toilet, like Elvis Presley. I have to assume if this was dangerous, we would've heard about it by now.

-- L.Vess, San Diego

Our thunderstorm two weeks ago blew a hole in the wall of a friend's house and fried their electrical wiring and appliances. What luck! I figured, just call 'em up and see what happened in the bathroom. Unfortunately, nobody was peeing at the time. But I'll assume you Alicelanders were taking notes when Mythbusters did their death-by-urination experiments on the Discovery Channel. Very hard, perhaps impossible, to kill yourself by peeing on high-voltage things.

A toilet is probably as safe a place as any in a lightning storm, if you're not touching metal. Porcelain is a great insulator. In a lightning storm, don't stand in the shower clutching onto the shower head. Don't sit in a bathtub while in contact with the metal drain cap or faucet. If you have metal plumbing instead of PVC, lightning can follow the pipes through your walls and give you a good (perhaps fatal) jolt. Don't talk on a land-based phone; use your cell phone, which has no wiring for the current to follow. But according to NOAA and the National Severe Storms Lab in very stormy Oklahoma, lightning-strike deaths are generally misunderstood anyway.

Finally, somebody's come to the rescue of beleaguered trailer park residents. Every year in the U.S., more people die in lightning storms (67 in 2003) than die in tornadoes (64). Most of the people "struck" by lightning are actually affected by the voltage differential that surrounds a direct lightning strike. Even if the bolt doesn't hit your bod, you can be injured or killed in the disrupted electrical field created around the strike point, which cause a sort of flashover to adjacent things (like you). And even if you're hit by a bolt, you have a 75 or 80 percent chance of surviving, since the current tends to go around your body on your skin, not through it, though it can cause heart, nerve, and neurological damage. Besides, most lightning is cloud-to-cloud, not cloud-to-ground; and because of our climate, we live in one of the least thunderstorm-prone areas of the country. Though, try telling that to my acquaintances with the fried microwave and the hole in their bedroom wall.

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