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Lightning and wildfire safety overview

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 7:51am MDT
Lightning fatalities in the United States from 2001 to 2010.

Lightning is a very real and deadly hazard in Colorado.

Colorado has the rather unenviable distinction of ranking second in the United States for lightning-related fatalities.  During the spring and summer the nice weather finds many residents outside and while clear skies are the norm, storms oftentimes loom and present a very real hazard to residents.

From the National Weather Service:

600 AM MDT MON JUN 22 2015

Colorado lightning safety week continues through Saturday. Today we discuss the lightning threat across the Centennial State.

In the United States…there are an estimated 25 million cloud to ground lightning flashes each year…and each one is a potential threat to life and property.  The 30-year average of human lightning fatalities is 49.  The 10-year average of human lightning fatalities is 32.  Last year 26 people were killed by lightning in the United States.  Dozens of others were permanently injured.  As a general rule of the victims who are killed…

100 percent were outdoors…
81 percent were male…
23 percent were standing underneath a tree…
23 percent were on or near the water…

In Colorado…lightning killed 2 people last year…and injured 14.

During the past 35 years…on average…Colorado has had 3 lightning fatalities and 13 injuries. Since 1980…El Paso County…including the Colorado Springs metro area…has had the dubious distinction of having the most lightning casualties…with 10 fatalities and 76 injuries. Larimer County has had 9 fatalities and 74 injuries…and Jefferson County has had 8 fatalities and 37 injuries.

Because it usually affects one or two victims at a time…and does not cause the destruction left in the wake of tornadoes or hurricanes…lightning generally receives less attention.

Many people do not act in a timely manner to protect their lives and property…and the lives of others simply because they do not understand all the dangers associated with thunderstorms and lightning.

You need to become aware of the situations that put you at a greater risk of being struck by lightning…and what you can do to reduce that risk. While nearly all people take some protective actions when rain…hail and wind are occurring with thunderstorms…many leave themselves vulnerable to being struck by lightning as thunderstorms approach…move overhead and away.

Lightning can strike more than 10 miles from the rain area of a thunderstorm. That distance is about as far as you can hear thunder. If you can hear thunder…you could be in danger of being struck by lightning.  When thunder roars, go indoors.

Most lightning deaths and injuries in Colorado occur during the afternoon…when lightning is most likely to occur and when people are more likely to be outside. Quite a few lightning fatalities have occurred when little or no rain was falling.

The chance that you will be struck by lightning in the United States is about 1 in 960 thousand for each year of your life.  However…your chance of being struck will depend on whether you consistently practice all the lightning safety rules.

Lightning starts around half of the forest and rangeland wildfires across the state.  Colorado averages around 2500 wildfires each year.  Many of these lightning caused fires occur with very little or no rain.  These storms often generate gusty winds…which can fan the flames of the fire.

When planning outdoor activities…check out the hazardous weather outlook and the latest forecast…which include thunderstorm and lightning potential. The web sites for National Weather Service offices which cover Colorado and issue these products are:

PUEBLO                         HTTP://WWW.WEATHER.GOV/PUB

For additional information about lightning or lightning safety…visit NOAA’s Lightning Safety Awareness web site at…


or the lightning web site of NOAA’s National Weather Service in Pueblo at…


Lightning Safety and Wildfire Awareness Series:

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