There are health risks associated with being caught in the rain, but they might not be what you’re thinking. The old wives’ tale holds that people who get caught in the rain and get drenched are at risk of contracting a cold. However, that’s not how colds work: you catch a cold from a common cold virus, a microscopic pathogen that causes illness.
That’s not to say that just standing in the rain during a thunderstorm is a great idea, though. There are some health risks associated with standing under a downpour.
If you can’t catch a cold from being caught in the rain, where does that perception come from? In some parts of the world, rainy seasons correspond with autumn and winter weather. The rhinovirus that causes the common cold seems to be more successful in colder, wetter climates. As such, there is likely some correlation between rainier weather and higher risks of contracting a cold.
The rain itself, however, isn’t what brings the illness into your body. Make sure you wash your hands before touching your face after you’ve been out, and try to avoid crowds during cold and flu season.
As for what health risks storms actually pose, one comes immediately to mind: the destructive force of lightning.
Scientists still aren’t quite sure how, exactly, lightning forms and discharges. It’s believed that a negative charge on the underside of clouds can generate a strong attraction to a positive charge at ground level. The resulting movement of electrons from the clouds to the ground generates a column of white-hot plasma, a phenomenon we call lightning.
The odds are good that you’ll never get struck by lightning. However, should you ever catch a bolt from the blue with your body, then you’re in for a world of pain. While about ninety percent of people hit by stray lightning bolts survive the encounter, almost everyone who has been hit by a storm’s fury agrees that it hurts.
The effects from a lightning strike are hard to predict. In some cases, the bolt can stop your heart or superheat your insides, which can lead to death. In other cases, it can cause an unusual scarring pattern from where blood vessels burst. Should you be wearing any metal, like rings or necklaces, these objects are likely to conduct a charge and cause burns.
Any electronics you’re carrying would be fried. Your clothes could be burned away or simply ripped apart by the force of the blast. In many cases, the bolt exiting through the victim’s feet blows their shoes off, or even to pieces.
So, the next time you see a thunderhead forming on the horizon, head inside. Don’t stand in any areas where you’re the tallest thing around, and try to stay away from lightning rods like fishing poles or antennas.