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Good Question: Why So Much Winter Static?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool's D...
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It happens so often, it’s not really all that shocking anymore. Along with the frigid winter temperatures comes a huge increase in those static electricity shocks. So why are we being shocked so much?

“I’m just a ball of static electricity. I walk around, shock people and I shock myself,” said WCCO-TV news producer Jennifer Jimenez. “I’m afraid to touch stuff in this building. I need to ground myself, I don’t know what to do.”

In the winter, it’s common to see more — and feel more — static electricity, according to Steve Walvig, director of education at The Bakken Museum of Electricity in Minneapolis.

According to Walvig, there’s always electricity going through our bodies and floating around in the air. When the positive and negative charges of atoms go into an imbalance, that’s when static electricity comes into play.

Walvig said during the summer, electricity makes a quiet escape from our bodies, because the air is more humid.

“The more water you have in the air, the more likely any electricity in your body can sneak into the ground,” he said. “When it’s dry, electricity in your body, stays in your body. As soon as you touch something — just like that — there it goes.”

Essentially, the water in the air (in the form of humidity) operates like a wire to the ground, giving charges a route to the ground. In the summer, as soon as you generate electricity in your body, it dissipates, he said, traveling to the ground along those little water droplets in the air.

Many people use products like Static Guard to cut down on the static shocks, and according to Walvig, it works.

“It’s like canned water in a way. It’s a really good conductor,” he said. “What it would do is give that electricity a pathway to the ground.”

Rubber-soled shoes are an insulator, Walvig said, and they help keep the electrical charges inside our bodies during the winter.

“If you were barefoot, you’d be less likely to store electricity in your body than if you had shoes on,” Walvig said.

Many of us load up on sweaters and coats during the winter and that can also contribute to the amount of static we generate.

“If you have a natural like wool, and a synthetic like fleece, one wants negative charges, the other wants to give them away,” he said.

So wearing all wool, or all synthetic, will cut down on the excess of negative or positive charges being stored in your body, he said.

WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha Reports

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