12:19pm

Sun March 2, 2014
Environment

Why Colorado Ranks Fifth In Lightning Damage Nationally

Lightning is a leading cause of storm related deaths in the United States.
Credit hipgnosis vision/Flickr Creative Commons

Warmer weather is coming, and that means thunderstorms. A new Google Map from the U.S. Geological Survey visualizes county-by-county data on lightning damage frequency. Northern Colorado's Front Range is a major target, and it's not just a coincidence.

An article in The Atlantic and research conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both point to Colorado’s unique topography, leading to more instances of destruction caused by lightning, including fatalities. While Colorado's climate and geography increase your chances of being struck, lifestyle and work are also major factors - given the state's reputation for outdoor recreation and a large agricultural industry.

The odds of being struck may seem rare, but 141 people have been killed by lightning strikes in Colorado since 1959. Weld and Larimer counties have received the brunt of the damage. In 2013, nine people were injured by lightning strikes all in one afternoon in Larimer County. Their occupation? Working on a farm.

Even more unusual, two CSU students were struck and killed simultaneously by a lightning bolt in Fort Collins in 2008. They were avid martial arts practitioners and were practicing before the bolt hit them. These incidents all occurred in July, where between the hours of 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., an average of 523 flashes occur in the state during that month, making it the most deadly.

A 2012 study compiled overall lightning damage caused to property, crops and people between 1959 and 2011. The organization’s website explains that “the western mountains of the U.S. produce strong upward motions and contribute to frequent cloud to ground lightning.” It’s no secret that lightning is attracted to the closest target, and mountains provide an easy conductor allowing strikes to occur more frequently.

Trends are showing that there has been an upsurge in fatalities, with mountain states like Wyoming and Colorado coming in first and second respectively based on deaths per million people from 2002-2011.

At a whopping 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it would seem impossible that anyone could survive such a strike, but you are ten times more likely to survive with an injury. The lightning may look immense, but in reality it’s only the width of a human thumb.

If you're a victim of a lightning bolt and manage to survive, the side-effects can linger for days or even weeks. Headaches, sleep problems, depression and soreness can persist long after the strike. So when you’re outside this summer enjoying the power of that thunderstorm in the Colorado Rockies or working outdoors in July, remember that your odds of being the next victim are greater than most.