It's the time of year when everyone is told to be careful with fire. But no one has ever told the forces that control the weather.
Already this year a number of lightning caused fires have plagued the western United States. And it it isn't even deep into the fire season yet.
Locally the area is quickly moving into what many call the Monsoon season. July, August and even September can mean large thunderstorms crawling across eastern Utah, sometimes dropping large amounts of rain. But more often than not, depending on where one is standing, the only thing seen by a person is wind and lightning.
While the last week of June was Lightning Awareness Week, for Carbon county that awareness should continue into the next three months as well.
Each year in the United States, lightning causes an average of 54 deaths, and many more people are left with devastating and permanent disabilities. In Utah, lightning has claimed the lives of 64 people since 1950, more than any other thunderstorm-related hazard.
Some of those have happened right here in Carbon County.
Because lightning usually claims only one or two victims at a time, and because lightning does not cause the mass destruction left in the wake of tornadoes or hurricanes, lightning generally receives much less attention than the more destructive weather-related killers. And yet there is seldom a weather related event that is more beautiful and when it touches down in the wrong place more deadly than lightning is. A force to be reckoned with each bolt of lightning can reach over five miles in length, soar to temperatures of approximately 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and contain 100 million volts.
While people on the ground can see lightning in their local area, those far above the earth, the astronauts in the International Space Station, get the entire glory of it. Rotating around the earth every 90 minutes they see storms on every continent and over every ocean (see a YouTube video of what they see at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPv7SxtvBaU). At any given moment, there are 1,800 thunderstorms in progress somewhere on the earth. This amounts to 16 million storms each year, worldwide. Lightning detection systems in the United States monitor an average of 25 million strokes of cloud-to-ground lightning every single year.
For those on the ground lightning can be both beautiful and fearful, depending on ones point of view. Most people have experienced the situation where they are viewing lightening from a distance, where it seems benign and just a beautiful light show. But if the storm is moving toward them, soon they are seeking shelter, not only from the rain but from the terrible and powerful sounds and flashes caused by the phenomenon.
In the next two articles in this series we will discuss why lightning occurs and how it is formed, and we will also look at the ways one can protect themselves from lightening.
Some information for this article came from the National Weather Service.