The Red Cone Pass Colorado Lightning Incident of 24 August 2003
Young male injured by lightning on Red Cone Pass

Stephen Hodanish | (email)
Senior Meteorologist

Paul Wolyn
Science Operations Officer

National Weather Service
Pueblo, Colorado

This research is part 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". 


Around 2130 UTC on 24 August 2003, a young male was struck and injured by lightning in the immediate vicinity of Red Cone Pass, located southeast of small town of Montezuma, Colorado (Fig. 1)


Figure 1. Topographic map of the Red Cone Pass area in central Colorado. Click on the map to get a larger view (use "back" button on your browser to return to this page). Red Cone pass on the larger map will be in the southeast corner. Maps from Used with permission. 

  Lightning Data

Flash data acquired from the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) indicated 3  flashes occurred within 6 miles of Red Cone pass between 2115 and 2130 UTC. The first flash occurred at 2116:08 UTC about 0.5 miles south-southeast of Red Cone pass, the second occurred at 2121:22 UTC 6 miles northwest of Red Cone pass, while the third flash occurred at 2126:20 UTC 2 miles east of Red Cone pass (fig 2). Flash maps 30 minutes prior to 2115 UTC showed no lightning in the Red Cone Pass area (the nearest flash was over ~15 miles southwest of Red Cone pass, figures 3 and 4). 

Information from medical authorities indicated the first report of a lightning flash victim on top of Red Cone pass arrived at 2130 UTC.  Based on this information and the map shown in Figure 1, The flash which occurred at 2116:18 was likely the flash which struck the young male.

Fig. 2. 15 minute lightning plot ending at  2130 UTC 24 August 2003. Flash locations are indicated by small white dashes ("-"). Red Cone Pass is located southeast of the town of Montezuma.

Fig. 3. Lightning data between 2100 UTC and 2115 UTC. No flashes occurred in the Red Cone pass area, the nearest flashes were over 15 miles away to the southwest.

Fig. 4. Lightning data between 2045 UTC and 2100 UTC. No flashes occurred in the Red Cone pass area.


Although radar imagery is available for this case, the data must be used with a bit of caution. The nearest Doppler radar for this case KFTG, which is located just east of the Denver International Airport. The lightning injury occurred 70 miles to the west of the radar, in the Rocky Mountains along the Continental Divide. High terrain, including Mount Evans (14,264 feet) is located between the radar and where the lightning injury occurred. This high terrain blocked the lowest radar beams from diagnosing the storms which were occurring in the mountains during the time of the casualty. More about NOAA Doppler radar can be found here.

Figure 5 shows the composite radar image and the flash which caused the casualty. This image shows the heaviest precipitation was occurring on the west side of Red Cone pass, with very light or no precipitation occurring in the immediate vicinity of where the flash occurred.

Fig. 6.) Composite Doppler radar from KFTG and 1 minute lightning data at 2127 UTC. The flash just below the "T" in Montezuma is just east of of Red Cone Pass. The time stamp of the radar image denotes the time of when the beginning of the composite radar imagery begins. It takes 6 minutes to complete a radar composite when the radar is operating in VCP-21.

Radar loop from, 2100 UTC to 2135 UTC (I apologize beforehand as you will see "numbers" jumping in and out of the frame loop. There is also one "bad" color image in the beginning of the loop).

Figures 4 and 5 show infra red and visible satellite imagery at the time of the incident.

Fig 7 (above) and 8 (below) . IR satellite imagery at 2130 UTC and 15 minute lightning data ending same time. IR imagery (above) and Visible (below). IR cloud temps were -51 C. The images above show a larger area then the  images 1 through 3. The three flashes which have been discussed in this document are located above the "D" in Breckenridge.

 is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.