A recent lightning strike death in Boulder County, Colorado has sparked curiosity about the risks associated with this natural phenomenon. Thankfully, the National Weather Service has years of data available that can provide insights into the dangers of lightning.

For starters, it’s important to remember that lightning injuries aren’t that common – but they do happen. From 1980 to 2018, lightning has killed 98 people in Colorado and has injured 477. This means that lightning kills 3.5 people and injures around 17 per year on average.

One key data point in determining lightning risk while planning a hike has proven to be time of day. Between 1980 and 2018, 2:00 PM has been the most common hour of lightning strike casualties in the Centennial State, followed closely by the hours of 1 PM and 3 PM. Note that this data is only based on instances when time of strike was known.

Lightning strike data National Weather Service
Lightning strike data by time of day. Graph and Data credit: National Weather Service.

Another relevant data point is in regard to what time of the year the lightning strike casualties have occurred. Between 1980 and 2018, the most Coloradans have been hit by strikes during the month of July, followed by June. Yes, more people tend to be on the trails during this time of the year, but this is also when more strikes are occurring.

Lightning strikes by month. Media and Data Credit: National Weather Service.

According to the National Weather Service, the most common county for lightning strike casualties is El Paso County, home to Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs. From 1980 to 2018, 10 people were killed and 84 people were injured by lightning in this part of the state. Find additional county-by-county data here. Nationally, Colorado has ranked 4th in lightning fatalities between 1959 and 2017.

While an average of around 500,000 lightning flashes hit the ground each year in Colorado, Colorado ranks 19th in the country when it comes to cloud-to-ground strikes over the past 10 years. The lightning flash density ranking is much lower – 31st.

If you’re hiking in Colorado, especially in high-altitude areas, it’s crucial to heed the weather. If a storm is rolling in, it’s safest to seek cover. Here are 5 quick tips on how to survive a lightning storm in Colorado.

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