Photo Credit Mark Langford. https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-mark-langford
Saturday – 26 Jun 2021 – 3:30pm
How to stay safe this season in Pagosa Country
First, what exactly is Lightning?
Lightning is associated with thunderstorms. The thunder noise is the actual discharge of the lightning in the atmosphere that makes the noise. BAM!!! How close was that?
You cannot have one without the other. However, because of how fast light travels versus noise, you can often see the lightning without hearing the thunder, especially at night. In other cases, during the day, you might hear the thunder and not see the lightning because the lightning might be isolated to cloud to cloud lightning rather than cloud to ground. BAM!!! How close was that?
In areas where you have other loud background noises (construction, flight line), you might not hear the thunder or see the lightning if it is during the day. So, it is always important to be aware if there is the potential for thunderstorms in the weather forecast. Especially if you are going to be outside!
A thunderstorm is a large Cumulonimbus cloud. It builds vertically, sometimes very rapidly. It can tower up to 60,000 feet in the Midwest. In Pagosa Country during monsoon season they can build from 30,000 to 35,000 feet. Now think of what happens when you rub a balloon on your head and then you touch someone. BAM! Such good fun! That is a electrostatic discharge. Think of the cloud as the balloon. As it builds rapidly, it builds up an electric inequity of positive and negative charges. It can discharge to the ground, to the air, to other clouds or to a person on the ground. And it is a GIANT spark of electricity. When it discharges, it makes a whole bunch of noise! BAM!!! How close was that?
Start counting as soon as you see the lightning. Light travels faster than sound. Every FIVE, “thousand X”, or “X Mississippi” is equal to ONE mile. If you count to 10, the thunderstorm is only two miles away. If you can only count to two, you better take cover.
How much lightning do we see?
“In an average year, about 500,000 lightning flashes hit the ground in Colorado.”
Lightning fatalities and injury statistics
According to NWS, “In recent years, Colorado was tied for 7th in the Nation when it comes to lightning fatalities (years 2008-2018). When you look at a longer period of time, Colorado ranks 4th in the Nation for fatalities (years 1959-2019).” That is not a statistic to brag about.
Lightning accounts for 53.1% of the weather related deaths nations wide over a 35 year period of time. Interestingly, more deaths occur by lightning than by hurricanes and tornadoes combined.
If you should find yourself outside (despite your best risk assessment), with an approaching thunderstorm there are a few actions you should immediately take. First, take cover in a hard cover car if one is available. If not, then take cover in a low-lying area or in a clump of shorter trees that are far away from single tall trees. If you have trekking poles or fly rods, lay those down in an area away from you. We have taken cover under clumps of trees a number of times when thunderstorms are moving through the area.
If you are inside, then avoid taking a shower and using corded electrical devices. Lightning is very weird, and it can run through a house and not do any damage, or it can wreak havoc and take out all electrical wiring and every appliance and start a fire.
How to update yourself on current thunderstorms
Remember, you can access a number of radar links on our web page: https://pagosaweather.org/pagosa-weather-resources/radar-links/
The RadarScope app, the Pro version has lightning data. The Weather Bug app also has current lightning data.
Remember, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”. See National Weather Service’s Lightning Safety page for more information. https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-safety-overview
Be safe out there!