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It’s lightning season in Colorado. Here’s how to stay safe

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12min 29sec
A lightning storm over southwest Denver. June 8, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A lightning storm over southwest Denver. June 8, 2023.

While the chances of getting hit by lightning are slim, it pays to be cautious.

Experts warn that lighting strikes can injure and kill people, especially as Colorado's monsoon season approaches.

Case in point: This past weekend, lightning killed a rancher who was feeding his cattle in Rand, Colorado, about two hours west of Fort Collins.

Mike Morgan, 51, was fatally struck along with 34 of about 100 cattle on his ranch.

"Nowadays, a lot of our work is done indoors. But ranching and farming is one of the deadly dozen, one of the top 12 sort of events that people are doing when they are struck and killed by lightning,” said meteorologist Chris Vagasky of the National Lightning Safety Council.

But lightning awareness isn't just about the great outdoors — it's also important in cities and even indoors, Vagasky said.

There are about 20-30 lightning fatalities annually in the United States, but the number has decreased in recent years, Vagasky said. In 2023, there were just 14 fatalities nationally.

Vagasky said he hopes it shows the country is making progress on lightning safety and educating people about what they need to do to be safe when thunderstorms are in the area. While 90 percent of people struck by lightning do survive, there are lifelong health consequences.

“(When) that electricity travels through their nervous system, through their cardiovascular system, (it) causes things like seizures or heart murmurs or other defects that they suffer through for the rest of their lives,” Vagasky said.

Here are his tips for lightning safety.

When doing outdoor activities, know how to recognize when lightning could be nearby

“You need to keep an eye on the sky because all the lightning comes from the sky. So, if you start to see towering clouds, if they look like a tall bunch of cauliflower, you can tell that clouds are building and potentially forming into thunderstorms. So when you see those clouds building, it's time to start wrapping up those activities.”

If you're outdoors when a storm begins, move to a safe place right away

“There is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm. No matter if there are trees around, (or) if you are in a town, anywhere outdoors during a thunderstorm is a dangerous place to be. You absolutely don't want to lay on the ground because that increases your contact with the ground and potentially electricity if lightning strikes nearby.

The safest course of action if you're outdoors, is to start moving towards a safe place. You just keep going towards the trailhead, towards where you parked your car because being near trees, being out in the open – anywhere outside – is going to be a potentially dangerous place. So, a fully enclosed metal vehicle or a substantial building. You can minimize your chances of being struck by doing that, though there (won’t be a) zero percent chance of being struck if you're outside during a thunderstorm.”

If you're inside, stay away from plugs and plumbing

“If you are connected to something that is plugged into the wall, or if you are connected to some sort of plumbing during a thunderstorm, there is a risk. And in recent years, people have been injured by lightning while playing video games, while working on their computer and while talking on the phone, because the electricity can travel through the wiring and the plumbing of the house.

But coincidentally, that's also why you are safe from lightning if you're not connected to those objects. Because if you're inside and the house is struck or lightning strikes nearby, the electric charge from that lightning travels through the wiring or through the plumbing and into the ground. So as long as you're not touching a TV that's plugged in or a computer that's plugged in, or your video game controller, you are safe from the lightning.”