Pueblo, Colorado Lightning Casualty of 23 June 2005
13 Year old struck by lightning while practicing for a softball game

Stephen Hodanish
Senior Meteorologist, NWS Pueblo, CO

On 23 June 2005, at approximately 6 pm MDT, lightning struck a 13 year old female while she was practicing for a softball game at the Pueblo East High School in Pueblo, Colorado. This case study examines the cloud to ground lightning activity which occurred up to and 30 minutes prior to the young teen being struck.

In order to observe which lightning flash caused this casualty, 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 victim(s) location is well documented. In this case study, the victim was struck at the Pueblo East High School, which is located at latitude 38.29N, longitude 104.58 west.

Knowing the exact time of when a lightning flash incident occurs can be difficult at times, especially if it is only one victim and no other people were nearby when the lightning flash hit. However, in this case study, the confidence of when the time the flash occurred is high. The time of the incident was estimated by reviewing the city of Pueblo 911 emergency phone logs. According to the logs, the first report of the lightning casualty was called in to the 911 dispatchers at 601 pm 23 June 2005 (0001 UTC 24 June 2005).

Once the temporal and spatial information is known, then it is a matter of reviewing the NLDN data set and observe which flash occurred at the location and time found above. The NLDN data set revealed a negative 23 kA (23,000 Ampheres) flash, occurred at 601:01 pm mdt 23 June (0001:01 UTC) at a latitude of 38.288631 N, longitude 104.577789 W. This is the location of Pueblo East High School, Figure 1.

The lightning flash was witnessed by many people who were at the baseball scrimmage that evening. According to the media, witnesses stated that they heard thunder prior to the flash, and observed lightning in the distance. Witnesses also observed that the sky was dark at the time of the flash, but it was not raining (Sunset occurs in Pueblo, Colorado at 8:26 pm mdt on 23 June).

In order to understand the temporal and spatial distribution of cloud to ground lightning flashes in the vicinity of where the casualty occurred, the National Lightning Detection Network data was examined. This data was examined within a 10 sm (34 km) radius 30 minute prior to when the casualty occurred. During this 30 minute period (from 2332 UTC to 0002 UTC), 10 flashes occurred. All of the flashes, except for 1 which occurred at 2345 UTC, occurred more than 5 statute miles away from the location of where the injury occurred. Nearly all of these flashes occurred to the south and southeast of the ball park. The nearest cloud to ground flash which occurred prior to the casualty occurred ~2 ½ minutes earlier (2358:24 UTC) ~5.6 mile southeast of the ballpark, the next nearest flash occurred at 2357:00 UTC 5.8 miles southeast of the ballpark, while the next previous flash occurred at 2354:32 UTC 5.1 miles south-southeast of the ballpark. The flash which occurred at 2345 UTC which was less than 5 miles from the ballpark occurred 3.6 miles to the south-southeast (Figure 2).

It is important to note that the NLDN only detects cloud to ground lightning. There may have been other in-cloud flashes occurring in the vicinity of where the casualty occurred (thunder was heard prior to the 13 year old being struck). It is estimated that for every cloud to ground lightning flash, there are 10 in-cloud flashes.

Radar analysis over the region indicated a cluster of showers and weak thunderstorms formed over the Wet Mountains of Pueblo County prior to 400 pm (2200 UTC). These showers and thunderstorms slowly intensified as they moved northeast off the mountains and moved across the City of Pueblo between 530 – 630 pm (Figure 3)

Summary

This case study analyzed the meteorology associated with a lightning strike victim that occurred on 23 June 2005 in Pueblo Colorado. The young female was struck by a lightning flash while scrimmaging for a softball game at Pueblo East High School. Witnesses to the event observed lightning prior the flash which caused the casualty. NLDN lightning data indicated cloud to ground lightning was occurring between 5 and 7 miles to the south and southeast of the ball field prior the injurious flash. Witnesses also observed the sky to be dark overhead and radar at the time of the flash indicated precipitation was very near by.

Lightning safety experts recommend you should seek shelter if lightning is within 6 miles of your location, or if thunder is heard (Click here to find out how far lightning is from you). Safety should also be found if darkening skies are overhead, and especially if thunder is heard. In this case, witnessed did observe both lightning and thunder prior the flash which caused the casualty.

Please practice lightning safety!

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