- When it thunders, it’s best to avoid open fields — and toilets.
As Bohemian Rhapsody so often reminds us, thunderbolts and lightning can be very, very frightening. Especially when they blow up your porcelain throne.
Employees at a dental clinic in Austin, Texas, opened the doors to a scene of lavatory devastation on November 15. The staff bathroom of the building had been completely demolished — as if it had exploded.
When toilets explode, the cause is usually some kind of pressure issue in the sewage system. But in this case, that seemed pretty unlikely.
The entire toilet had been reduced to a scorched, blackened mess. Clearly, something else had happened.
But what could it have been?
Officially, the local fire department ruled an overheated ceiling vent as the culprit. But the employees have a different theory.
They suspect the cause was a rogue lightning strike.
‘No Answer, Just a Lot of Questions’
Maggie Kieffer works as a receptionist at the front desk of Circle C Dental. On November 15, the 31-year-old arrived at the southern Austin clinic like she does every other day.
But as soon as she opened the office door, she realized this wasn’t going to be like every other day.
“There was this acidic, putrid smoke throughout the entire place – it burned to breathe. It was pretty scary,” Kieffer told KXAN.
Kieffer allowed the smoke to clear somewhat as her colleagues arrived at the clinic. Once they deemed it safe to enter the building, they ventured forth to see where the smoke was coming from.
They quickly determined the smoke and stench wafted from the staff bathroom. But the scene of devastation that awaited them wasn’t caused by a late-night Taco Bell dinner.
“Our toilet exploded,” summarized Kieffer.
“It was black. Looking up at the ceiling where the vent should have been, there was just a black hole.”
The ex-toilet was now just a blackened smoking stub. Pieces from the tank and bowl were scattered all over, and all the plastic parts had melted into a black goo.
What an earth had happened? Kieffer sure didn’t know.
“I had no answers, just a lot of questions,” she said.
‘Never Seen Anything Like It’
The clinic staff called Austin Fire Department (AFD) who came over to investigate. Unfortunately, they seemed just as flabbergasted as the dental workers.
“In my 30 years of experience, I have never seen anything like it,” said Lt. Ron Hutto.
After examining the toilet’s remains, the AFD came up with a plausible explanation. According to them, the electrical connections of the ceiling fan vent somehow overheated and caused it to catch fire.
As the vent burned, the fire destroyed the connection points holding the fan up on the ceiling. It then fell directly onto the toilet underneath it.
The still-flaming fan began to heat up the toilet bowl. Ultimately, the heat rose higher than the porcelain could withstand, causing it to blow to smithereens.
An Alternate Theory
The ADF’s conclusion would account for everything, from the blown-apart toilet bowl to the scorched ceiling vent and melted plastic. However, Kieffer thinks there may be another explanation.
She came across a 2019 story from Oklahoma about lightning that struck an apartment building. The lightning bolt traveled from the roof into the ventilation system, finally exiting through a bathroom ceiling vent and blowing up the toilet underneath it.
Comparing the pictures from the 2019 incident to what she’d seen at her workplace, they looked strikingly similar. So, could it have been that the mystery explosion was the work of lightning?
In theory, yes. Lightning bolts can reach temperatures of up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit — plenty enough to explode a toilet.
However, ADF’s Lt. Hutto saw one issue with this hypothesis. There were no thunderstorms on the day the toilet blew up, so he sticks to his burning-ceiling-vent theory.
That said, meteorologists at KXAN noted that there was rain in the area on the night the toilet blew up. Although there are no recorded thunderclaps, it’s possible there was a bolt of rogue lightning the radar didn’t catch.
But, as there were no witnesses, we may never solve the mystery of the exploding toilet. Though considering the damage, maybe it’s better nobody saw it.
Lightning + Poop Tank = Explosions
Oddly enough, the Oklahoma explosion isn’t the only toilet blowout lightning caused in 2019. A similar incident happened only a couple of months later in Florida.
In August 2019, MaryLou Ward and her husband were laying in bed at their Gulf Cove home, listening to the storm outside. Suddenly, there was a massive explosion that threw the couple and their three dogs out of the bed.
When they went to see just what had happened, they noticed their toilet had been blown off the floor. The cause was lightning, but this time it didn’t strike the toilet itself.
Instead, the lightning bolt landed near the home’s septic tank. The heat from the strike formed a massive methane bubble in the tank that traveled backward through the pipes into the toilet of the Wards’ master bedroom — and blew it apart.
Perhaps it’s for the best that we all avoid bathrooms during thunderstorms. But if you absolutely must answer nature’s call, you’d better hold onto your butt.
Otherwise, you may have to look for it from the other side of the bathroom.