Lightning remains a serious danger in Colorado


Two people have been killed and four injured by lightning in Colorado this year, according to the National Weather Service.
With three fatalities and 18 injuries the yearly average for the state, officials are reminding everyone that lightning is something to be taken very seriously.
To help educate the public on lightning safety, June 20 through 26 has been declared Colorado's Lightning and Wildfire Awareness Week. Human safety is the national focus, but because wildfires are such a concern in Colorado, that topic has been added to the awareness week.
Seventy-five percent of people struck by lightning survive, but suffer serious repercussions.
Dr. Brian Johnson of the Moffat Family Clinic said if a person survives a lightning strike, long-term medical problems can range from serious burns to brain complications, including seizures and memory loss.
For those who have had their lives claimed by lightning, the immediate cause of death is usually not the strike, but cardiac arrest. Jim Pringle, warning coordinate meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said 25 percent of those fatalities could be prevented if the person had received CPR immediately.
Because weather is so unpredictable, a person's best defense against lightning is to avoid it. Lightning can travel and strike up to 10 miles away from where the rain is falling, so head for shelter as soon an approaching storm is in sight.
Lynn Barclay, a fire mitigation and education specialist for the Bureau of Land Management said the weather's unpredictability is also a huge problem with wildfires. She said almost all the fires this year have been started by lightning.
"Weather is one of the major factors in fire behavior and is an element we have to constantly keep an eye on," Barclay said.
To help predict fires, the BLM tracks the number of lightning strikes in a given area and prepositions fire engines there so that if lighting does ignite something, firefighters are prepared. The BLM also includes lightning in the firefighter annual training.
A big problem with lightning in Colorado is what the BLM calls "holdovers," fires that can occur up to five days after a storm.
This happens when lightning strikes, for example, a tree during a storm, but because the conditions were not right to ignite a fire, the tree stays hot inside for days until conditions become right, Barclay explained.
This is a perfect example of how unpredictable the weather can be and why the BLM has to track every detail of it, Barclay said.
To promote lightning safety during Lightning and Wildfire Awareness week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue public information statements of a different topic each day on their Web site and National Oceanic and Atmopsheric Administration weather radio stations.

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