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Lightning kills two in two days in Colorado park

OUTDOOR HAZARDS — Lightning storms beat the odds over the weekend, killing two and injuring at least 10 in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A woman was killed by a lightning strike on Friday and then on Saturday in the same area another person was killed, a park official said.

A group of people were struck by lightning at 1:30 p.m. (MDT) Saturday in the Rainbow Curve area along Trail Ridge Road about 11,000 feet up, and one man died on the way to a nearby medical center, Rocky Mountain National Park said in a statement. Three others were injured and transported by ambulance to the hospital, but others in the area may also have been hurt and sought treatment on their own.

On Friday, Rebecca R. Teilhet, 42, from Yellow Springs, Ohio, was killed and seven others were hurt when lightning struck on the Ute Crossing Trail at roughly 11,400 feet up, the park said. 
"We can't emphasize enough that when it starts to get dark and the clouds are forming, it's time to get down," Martin Koschnitz, the hospital's medical director, told NBC station KUSA of Denver. "My understanding is this group (on Friday) was actually in the process of doing that and still got caught. This is really a sad thing." 
Click here to read a good briefing for hikers on lightning hazards and precautions in the Rockies and other high mountain areas.

Lightning: flashy way to die outdoors

OUTDOOR SAFETY — Name the safest place to seek refuge if you are outdoors and a lighting storm moves in?

  • Answer: An automobile — totally safe, unless a tree blows down on top of you.

This is Lightning Awareness Week, so be aware.  Sure, you can't bail out of the wilderness every time a thunder storm rolls in, but you can minimize risk by checking weather reports and getting very early starts on ventures into the high ridges so you can return to safer areas or your car by the time thunder activity begins, usually in the afternoon.

Check the attached document for some solid background on lighting safety.


Norman Maclean had high perspective on lightning

MOUNTAIN STORMS — If you haven’t read Norman Maclean’s “USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook and a Hole in the Sky,” Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune recommends it, and so do I.

It is one of the “other stories” in his book “A River Runs Through It and Other Stories.” 

Recently I wrote a story about a backpacking trek in the Glacier Peak Wilderness during which thunder storms pounded my camp with the shock and awe of the bombing of Bahgdad.

Maclean says this about thunderstorms from the perspective of a forest fire lookout staffer at  Elk Summit near Powell, Idaho:

“In the late afternoon, of course, the mountains meant all business for the lookouts. The big winds were veering from the valleys toward the peaks, and smoke from little fires that had been secretly burning for several days might show up for the first time. New fires sprang out of thunder before it sounded. By three-thirty or four, the lightning would be flexing itself on the distant ridges like a fancy prizefighter, skipping sideways, ducking, showing off but not hitting anything. But four-thirty or five, it was another game. You could feel the difference in the air that had become hard to breath. The lightning now came walking into you, delivering short smashing punches.”

Thunder storms put hikers in hot spot

WILDERNESS — I'm just back from four electrifying days of backpacking in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, catching up old news for which I had a front row seat.

Mudslides bury North Cascades Highway — Hikers stranded Monday as storms leave the vital summer passage closed over the mountains between Mazama and the Skagit Valley. The Washington State Department of Transportation says eight mudslides have buried SR 20.

Lightning pounds North Cascades — Lightning maps showed more than 7,400 strikes occurred from 9 a.m. Saturday until 9 a.m. Sunday along the eastern slope of the Cascade Range and in Southeastern Washington, including the Glacier Peak Wilderness where I was hunkered three nights in a row wishing I had ear plugs.  Much of the thunder was concentrated in Okanogan, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Franklin counties, Forest Service officials say. 

                “Significant amounts of rain fell Saturday night so some fires may not be detected for some time,” said Central Washington Interagency Communications Center Operations Coordinator Jim Duck. “Many times lightning will strike a tree and fire will smolder beneath it for some time until fuel around it dries out.”

Hikers in 3 national parks felled by lightning

HIKING — Thunder storms throughout the West this week took a heavy toll, setting fires and raising havoc in several ways.  

The strangest detail:   Hikers in three national parks were injured or killed within a 30-hour period.

See the stories about this week's lightning strike victims in:

Read this story about the serious threat lightning poses and precautions hikers and campers can take.