Woodland Park, Colorado lightning fatality of 19 July 2006:

Lightning fatality to a teen playing soccer in Woodland Park, 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 530 pm MDT (2330 UTC) on 19 July 2006, 17 year old Andrew Yarger was struck and killed by lightning at Cavanaugh Field which is located in Woodland Park, Colorado (Fig 1). He was playing soccer (Fig 2) with friends when he was struck. According to media reports, the flash entered near his collarbone and exited his left foot. None of the other players were injured by this flash.


Fig. 1 - Satellite view of Cavanaugh Field in Woodland Park, Colorado. Green arrow marks the location of where the teen was struck by the lightning flash.

 



 


Fig. 2. Location of where the victim was struck (flowers in center of photo).

 



    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 by GPS (38.992817N, 105.057533W).

The time of when the fatal flash occurred in this case is also believed to be highly accurate. Reports from the Teller County Sheriff indicated the first 911 call received regarding a lightning flash victim in Woodland Park arrived at the dispatch center at 5:29:53 PM MDT (2329:53 UTC)

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 likely caused the fatality occurred at 5:29:01 MDT (23:29:01 UTC). This flash occurred at the geographical location of 38.739803N, 104.908905W. This flash location was in the vicinity (0.55 miles) of where the fatality occurred at Cavanaugh Field (Fig 3).



Fig. 3.
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 between 2329:00 and 0029:59 UTC 19 July 2006 (5:29:00 - 5:29:59 pm MDT). The lightning strike locations are shown with a white "-". Three flashes occurred during this 1 minute time period. the flash which occurred directly west of the letter "W" in Woodland Park is believed to be the flash that caused the fatality. 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 (530 PM MDT; 2330 UTC) to 30 minutes prior (500 PM MDT; 2300 UTC).

Analysis of this data indicated a total of 41 lightning flashes occurred across the region between 500 PM MDT and the time of the fatal flash (529:01 pm MDT; Figure 4)

 


Fig. 4. 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 2300 UTC (500 pm MDT)  to 2330 UTC (530 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.

 



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 (529 pm MDT) and 10 minutes prior (519 pm MDT), we observe that only 6 lightning flashes occurred within this area.

A closer examination of these 6 cloud to ground flashes indicate the flash immediately prior to the fatal flash occurred 18 seconds earlier and was located only a little more than 1 mile away. The second flash prior to the fatal flash occurred 53 seconds earlier, and was located just under 6 miles away. The third flash prior occurred 103 seconds earlier and was just over a mile away. The additional three flashes which occurred within 6 miles and 10 minutes prior to the fatal flash are shown in Table 1.

Based on this data, the group of teens likely knew that lightning was occurring within 6 miles over where they were located. However, the lightning activity within 6 miles of the soccer field was infrequent (roughly 1 flash every 2 minutes averaged over the ten minute time period prior to the flash which caused the casualty).

The radar data in Figure 4 showed light to moderate rain, with a few reflectivity pixels of heavy rain, was occurring at the time of the fatal flash. This convective rain shower activity was moving to the northwest at about 10 mph.

    Summary

Radar and lightning data indicated cloud to ground lightning was occurring prior to the teen being struck. A total of 6 cloud to ground flashes occurred within a 6 miles radius 10 minutes prior to the fatal flash. Two of these flashes were roughly about 1 mile away. Similar to other lightning casualty case studies in Colorado, this storm which produced the fatality was producing only infrequent cloud to ground lightning activity (only 6 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.

If you wish to know how far lightning is from you, click here.

Please practice Lightning Safety. Any lightning, no matter how infrequent the activity is, can be deadly.

Any questions should be addressed to the Author.



Table 1. table showing the 6 flashes which occurred within 6 miles of the fatality location during a 10 minute time period leading up to the fatal strike. The flash which occurred at 23:29:01 was the flash which likely caused the fatality. "kA" in the table below indicates the kiloAmpheres of the flash.

Date

Time (UTC)

kA

Direction from location of fatality

Distance from fatality location

Time  difference between lightning flash and the flash that caused the fatality  (h:mm:ss)

7/19/06

23:19:05

-15

East

1.69

0:09:56

7/19/06

23:23:11

-25

Northwest

2.14

0:05:50

7/19/06

23:26:24

-25

North-northwest

3.90

0:02:37

7/19/06

23:27:18

-3

South-southeast

1.14

0:01:43

7/19/06

23:28:08

-3

South-southeast

5.94

0:00:53

7/19/06

23:28:43

-19

Southeast

1.04

0:00:18

7/19/06

23:29:01

-23

 

0:00:00



File 6094p10


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