Colorado Springs, Colorado lightning injury of 19 July 2006
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Lightning injury to a man coaching a baseball game in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Stephen Hodanish
National Weather Service
Pueblo, Colorado

This research is part of the Lightning Casualty Case Study section of the Colorado Lightning Resource Page, NWS Pueblo, Colorado. 

"The primary reason for these lightning casualty case studies is to observe where victims were located relative to thunderstorm activity when they were struck".

    Introduction

At approximately 553 pm MDT (2353 UTC) on 19 July 2006, a male was struck and injured by lightning at Fremont Park which is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado (Fig 1). He was coaching baseball when he was struck. According to media reports, the man received a direct strike and had no pulse after being hit. CPR was begun on the man shortly after being hit by the flash, and he was rushed to the hospital were he was revived.



Fig. 1 - Satellite view of Fremont Park in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Green arrow marks the location of where the baseball coach was struck by the lightning flash.

 



    Data Analysis

In order to observe which lightning flash caused the fatality, two pieces of information need to be known. The first piece of information is knowing the exact time when the lightning flash hit the victim, and the second is the location of where the victim was struck. Typically, the victims' location is well documented by rescue authorities. In this case, the victims location was documented to be at Fremont Park which is located at 38.9060N; 104.7723W

The time of when the fatal flash occurred in this case is also believed to be highly accurate. Reports from the media indicate the flash occurred at 553 pm MDT

Once the temporal and spatial information is known, then it is a matter of reviewing the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) data set and observe the lightning activity which occurred at the time and location found above. The NLDN data set revealed that the flash which  caused the casualty occurred at 5:52:15 MDT (23:52:15 UTC). This flash occurred at the geographical location of 38.914120N, 104.786072.W. This flash location was in the vicinity (0.96 miles) of where the injury occurred at Fremont Park (Fig 2).


Fig. 2. Radar and lightning data centered over the region where the lightning fatality occurred. (click on image for a full resolution view). Lightning data shows the cloud to ground lightning activity which occurred during the 1 minute time period between 2352:00 and 2352:59 UTC 19 July 2006 (5:52:00 - 5:52:59 pm MDT). The lightning strike location is shown with a white "-". Only 1 flash occurred during this 1 minute time period.  Radar data was from the National Weather Service Doppler radar site KPUX.

 



In order to observe the trends in lightning activity across the region prior to the lightning strike fatality, both lightning data and radar data was analyzed over a 446 statute square mile (20.1 sm x 20.1 sm) area, centered at the location of where the fatality occurred. The time of this analysis was from the time of the fatality (553 PM MDT; 2353 UTC) to 30 minutes prior (5:23 PM MDT; 2323 UTC).

Analysis of this data indicated a total of 30 lightning flashes occurred across the region between 523 PM MDT and the time of the fatal flash (552:21 pm MDT; Figure 3)



FIG 3. Loop of Radar and Lightning data centered on the location (small yellow circle) of where the fatality occurred (Click on image for full resolution view) . Loop of "1 minute" lightning data" runs from 2323 UTC (523 pm MDT)  to 2353 UTC (553 pm MDT). Orange ring represents a 6 mile radius from fatality location. Radar data is composite reflectivity data from National Weather Service Doppler weather radar KPUX. The 1 minute lighting plots change every minute while the radar data changes every 4-5 minutes. The reason why the radar data changes every 4-5 minutes is it takes this amount of time to generate one composite radar reflectivity image (To learn more about NWS Doppler radar data, click here). The "time date stamp" of the radar data denotes the time the radar image began. The red number in the far upper right hand corner counts down the time (in minutes) to the lightning strike which caused the injury.



In the analysis above, the area which was analyzed was roughly a 20 x 20 square mile region. However, the Lightning Safety Community recommends that you should seek safe shelter if lightning occurs within 6 miles radius of your location. If we just look at the lightning which occurred within a 6 mile radius of the soccer field (orange ring in Figure 4), and look at this data between the time of the fatality (552:15 pm MDT) and 10 minutes prior (522:15 pm MDT), we observe that only 2 lightning flashes occurred within this area.
A closer examination of these 2 cloud to ground flashes indicate the flash immediately prior to the flash which caused the injury occurred 3 minutes and 23 seconds earlier and was located 1.76 miles away. The second flash prior to the injurious flash occurred 5 minutes and 23 seconds earlier, and was located 4.16 miles away. Figure 5 shows the 2 flashes.

Based on this data, the folks at this baseball park likely knew that lightning was occurring within 6 miles of where they were located. However, the lightning activity within 6 miles of the soccer field was very infrequent.

The radar data in Figure 4 showed the storm which produced the flash which caused the injury developed a few miles to the northwest of the ballfield 25-30 minutes prior the the casualty. The storm itself was moving very slowly to the west. During this 25-30 minute time period, the heaviest rain wash immediately to the northwest of the ball field. Rain (light to possibly moderate in intensity at times), likely occurred at the ball field priod to the lightning strike.




Figure 5. This figure shows the lightning flashes which occurred within a 6 mile radius of the strike location 10 minutes prior to the injury. The time "0:00" indicates the exact time when the injury occurred. Only 2 other flashes occurred prior to the flash which caused the injury.

    Summary

Radar and lightning data indicated cloud to ground lightning was occurring 0ver the 400+ square mile area prior to the teen being struck. A closer examination of the data within 6 miles of the ball field indicated a total of 2 cloud to ground flashes occurred in a 10 minute time period prior to the fatal flash. Similar to other lightning casualty case studies in Colorado, this storm which produced the casualty was producing only infrequent cloud to ground lightning activity (only 2 flashes occurred within a 10 minute time period). The lighting safety community recommends that if ANY lightning is occurring within 6 miles of your location, you should seek safe shelter in a substantial building or motor vehicle.

For more information about Lightning Safety, please visit the NOAA Lightning Safety Webpage, or visit the Outdoor Lightning Risk Reduction section of the Colorado Lightning Resource Page.   More case studies similar to this one can be found here.

Please practice Lightning Safety. Any lightning, no matter how infrequent the activity is, can cause serious injury or kill you.

Any questions should be addressed to the Author.


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