According to the National Weather Service (NWS), 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. An average of 58 people are killed each year by lightning. In 2009, 34 people were killed by lightning in the United States. Hundreds of others were injured. In the United States during 2009 of the victims who were killed:
- 100 percent were outdoors,
- 82 percent were male,
- 20 percent were standing underneath a tree,
- 23 percent occurred on or near the water,
- two fatalities occurred while riding motorcycles.
The NWS also indicates that during the past 20 years, on average, Colorado had three lightning deaths and 16 injuries. The Natioanl Weather Service also notes that El Paso County and the Colorado Springs metro area, has the dubious distinction of having the most lightning incidents with 10 fatalities and 58 injuries since 1980. Larimer County has had seven fatalities and 53 injuries and Boulder County has had eight fatalities and 36 injuries since 1980.
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. Put simply, if you can hear thunder...you could be in danger of being struck by lightning. Get inside and stay inside until the threat passes. Most lightning deaths and injuries occur during the afternoon and evening, when lightning is most likely to occur and when people are more likely to be outside.
But it isn't just the threat of being struck by lightning that poses a danger. In fact, lightning starts around half of the forest and rangeland wildfires across the state. Colorado averages around 2500 wildfires each year and we have already seen a number of them this spring across Colorado. 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.
While there is little that can obviously be done to mitigate a direct, lightning-sparked ignitition, two important ways to protect property from the ravages of wildfire are to create defensible space around homes and replace roofs with fire-resistant materials. Coloradans can help protect themselves and their property and reduce the damage and destruction of wildfires by being aware of precautionary measures they can take before and during lightning, severe weather and wildfire events. Check out http://www.firewise.org for more info about setting up defensible space around your home, neighborhood and business.
People should also think about mitigation in terms of protecting their pocketbook-in the short and long-term by keeping affordable insurance. If you live in a high risk wildfire area insurance companies increasingly expect you to share the responsibility for reducing the threat of wildfire damaging or destroying your home.
For a free guide on wildfire mitigation and insurance: http://rmiia.org/Catastrophes_and_Statistics/Wildfire_and_insurance.html
For information on wildfire preparedness, lightning safety and what Coloradans can do to take responsibility and prepare for disasters, visit the Colorado Division of Emergency Management (CDEM) website at http://dola.colorado.gov/dem/; the National Weather Service offices in Colorado at: Boulder - www.weather.gov/denver, Grand Junction - http://www.crh.noaa.gov/gjt/, Pueblo - www.weather.gov/pueblo, and Goodland, Kansas - www.weather.gov/goodland; the Colorado State Forest Service website at http://csfs.colostate.edu/; the Division of Fire Safety at http://dfs.state.co.us/; the Rocky Mountain Wildland Fire Information website at http://www.rockymountainwildlandfire.info/; and the Colorado Lightning Resource Center - http://www.crh.noaa.gov/pub/?n=ltg.php.
For additional information about lightning or lightning safety, visit NOAA's lightning safety awareness web site at http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/