By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming is among the top 10 states where fatal lightning strikes occur, according to the National Weather Service.
In a graphic posted to the NWS Cheyenne’s Facebook page kicking off Lightning Awareness Safety Week, it showed that Wyoming, Colorado and eight other states across the country had the most lightning strike fatalities over the last decade.
Meteorologist Don Day told Cowboy State Daily that Wyoming is such a target for lightning for a few reasons.
“We live in a place with a high frequency of thunderstorms,” he explained. “Also, Wyoming has such wide open spaces and there are miles and miles with no trees. In a lot of situations, you’re the highest point and lightning has an easier time finding you.”
Wyoming’s peak thunderstorm season is from June to August, although storms usually start in March and end around October.
Since people recreate outdoors so frequently in Wyoming, fatal lightning strikes can happen while someone is hiking, climbing or walking along a ridge.
According to NWS, around 23 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur every year in the United States, with approximately 290,000 of them occurring in Wyoming.
From 1984 to 2013, the U.S. averaged 51 lightning fatalities per year. Only around 10% of the people struck by lightning are killed, but the other 90% must cope with varying degrees of discomfort and disability, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
From 1959 to 2012, Wyoming was considered the first in the country in the number of lightning deaths and injuries per capita. Since 1995, all of the lightning fatalities in Wyoming have occurred in the mountains.
In Wyoming, lightning is responsible for more deaths and injuries than any other thunderstorm phenomena. From 1996 to 2013, lightning was attributed to eight fatalities and 70 injuries across the state.
Day noted that if anyone is looking to hike throughout the peak storm season, they should start early and wrap up their journey around noon or 1 p.m., since afternoons and evenings are usually when Wyoming’s storms develop.
Golfers should abide by similar guidelines and make note of lightning shelters at their local golf course.
Boaters should get back onto shore as quickly as possible when they begin to hear thunder and seek shelter immediately.
“The best course of action is to avoid situations where the risk of a lightning strike goes up,” Day said. “Lightning can defy logic. It’s crazy, it can do some amazing things. But these lightning strikes happen more often than you think and it’s a dangerous part of living out here.”