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Safety Expert Details How Not To Get Struck By Lightning In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw its first lightning fatality in 12 years on Tuesday, when a 22-year-old man was struck and killed by a bolt while camping in Teton County.

The last fatal strikes were in 2010, when two people were killed in separate incidents that summer. The man who was struck and killed this week was part of a wilderness education expedition into the Teton Wilderness through the Lander-Based National Outdoors Leadership School (NOLS), according to Teton County Search And Rescue (TCSAR).

John Jesenius, the director of the National Lightning Safety Council (NLSC), told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that the young man was likely struck because he was unable to find shelter from the storm besides his tent.

“Lightning strike fatalities are a combination of the amount of lightning and also what people are doing outside,” Jesenius said. “When people talk about the odds of getting struck, the general odds around one in 1.5 million of getting hit by lightning. On the other hand, if you ignore the warning signals of a thunderstorm or you just don’t plan ahead to get to a safe place…then your odds actually go up.”

Jesenius said while people in Florida (where thunderstorms happen nearly every day) are theoretically more likely to be struck than someone in Wyoming, the open spaces people love in the western United States can increase the possibility of a lightning strike.

“About two-thirds of the lightning fatalities occur to people enjoying outdoor activities,” he said. “If you are doing one of those activities, you might not be able to get to a safe place to take shelter from a storm. So your odds of being struck are higher, but it’s one of those risks that you have to be willing to take.”

If a person hears thunder, then they are within the vicinity of a potential lightning strike. The peak season for lightning is between June and August, he said.

Safety Tips

To avoid being struck, Jesenius said to remember the phrase “when the thunder roars, go indoors.”

If caught out in the open, he listed six points to follow:

Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges, or peaks.
Never lie flat on the ground. Crouch down in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ears so that you are down low with minimal contact with the ground.
— Never shelter under an isolated tree. If you are in a forest, shelter near lower trees.
— Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
— Immediately get out of and away from ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water.
— Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (such as barbed wire fences, power lines, or windmills).

He also mentioned that separating from others was important as if lightning strikes the ground, there will be fewer injuries.

Open spaces, he said, will not protect people from lightning mentioning vehicles like golf carts, convertibles, and motorcycles.

Same goes for open spaces like gazebos and sports arenas.

And, of course, golf courses, swimming pools, beaches, etc. are to be avoided.

The most common time fatal lightning strikes occur is between the afternoon and evening. The strike that killed the 22-year-old man in Teton County this week occurred around 6 p.m., according to reports.

The most common activities that people are doing when fatally struck by lightning include fishing, recreating at the beach, camping, farming or ranching and riding a bicycle, motorcycle or all-terrain vehicle.

People Do Not Explode

Jesenius also clarified that contrary to some popular misconceptions, people do not explode when struck by lightning, but are rather at risk for cardiac arrest.

“Typically, they will go into cardiac arrest when struck, so knowing CPR is very important to try and revive them,” Jesenius said. “They may have some burns from the lightning strike and sometimes, the lightning can cause the sweat on their body to vaporize and that could cause some of their clothes to blow off.”

Five states (Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Washington state) have not seen a fatal lightning strike since the NLSC’s creation in 2001.

2021 saw the fewest fatal lightning strikes in the last 15 years, with just 11, but as of this week, 2022 had matched that number.

For more safety tips, go here:

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Car Struck By Lightning Outside Cheyenne During Tuesday Storm

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two people in a car on Interstate 80 Tuesday evening managed to avoid injury after their vehicle was struck by lightning during a severe storm in Cheyenne.

According to Laramie County Fire District No. 10, firefighters, the Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers and emergency medical workers responded to a report of a vehicle on Interstate 80 near Cheyenne being struck by lightning.

The vehicle’s driver and passenger said the lightning struck the hood of their car and then felt as if something pushed the car forward. The driver was able to maneuver the vehicle to the side of the road even though its electrical power had been knocked out.

The departent said the lightning struck the front of the car and traveled to the back window, causing it to shatter. A couple of small pieces of plastic were also melted on the passenger side’s front wheel well.

“When dealing with lightning storms, and rapid weather changing conditions it’s critical to remain inside your vehicle while traveling,” the district said. Your vehicle is shelter. It’s also very important to not block the roadway under overhead passes, and bridges during hail storms. This allows emergency vehicles to respond to an emergency without interruption.”

According to an NBC report, cars are safe from lightning because of the metal cage surrounding people in the vehicle. The cage directs the lightning charge around the occupants and into the ground.

Tuesday’s hailstorm, accompanied by more than 2.3 inches of rain, left some streets flooded, but otherwise caused no major damage.

After the storm, Cheyenne has now seen more precipitation since Jan. 1 than in all of 2020, receiving 11.3 inches of precipitation so far this year. In 2020, the city only saw 10.03 inches.

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Wyoming Among Top States Where Fatal Lightning Strikes Occur

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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.”

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