Denver’s drought eased up over the weekend, when a thunder and lightning storm produced heaven-sent precipitation. Lightning, often striking to behold, is a life force that’s frequently deadly. According to National Geographic, “Lightning is a killer. It claims more victims each year than do snowstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes. It keeps a low profile as the second largest weather-related killer, usually striking one person at a time. Only floods, which can wipe out towns, kill more people.”
Lightning bolts spark as many as 10,000 forest fires annually. And each year in the United States, lightning claims an average of almost 100 lives and leaves several hundred individuals with life-debilitating injuries.
Lightning is a very, very intense phenomenon, unlike anything we normally encounter. In Colorado, lightning strikes frequently during the summer storm season and is the most dangerous natural hazard people consistently encounter every year. Colorado ranks high in the number of deaths and injuries per million people by lightning strikes. Every year, homeowners in the metro Denver area report thousands of claims due to lightning strikes.
When it comes to nature’s high voltage electricity, the Front Range and the Platte plains are almost equally dangerous. The mountains contribute to conditions conducive to thunderstorm formation. And on Colorado’s plains, the flat and open landscape lacking natural features means that lightning tends to target buildings and trees. A proximity to trees, in fact, is one of the most common variables among victims of lightning strikes.
Colorado’s natural resources and volatile weather patterns coupled with a substantial population of outdoor enthusiasts makes the state an area at risk for lightning casualties and fatalities. As many as 20 percent of lightning deaths in the state occur among hikers and climbers in the mountains. While 80 to 90 percent of people struck by lightning survive the event, one quarter of the victims suffer longterm physiological or psychological trauma, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute in Louisville, CO.
Lightning occurs in all thunderstorms. Descending blindly from clouds, lightning does not fix on its target until the strike is 30 yards from ground. The most likely situation for people to be struck by lightning is not during the intensity of the storm when rain falls hard and a high number of flashes occur, but before or after storms peak.
Read Part Two and Part Three of this series for safety tips that can save your life.
••• “Cultivate your corner of the world. You grow your garden; your garden grows you.” •••
Colleen Smith’s debut novel Glass Halo, set in Denver, was a finalist for the Santa Fe Literary Prize and was praised in the latest issue of The Bloomsbury Review. The novel is available online and through your favorite bookstore.
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