Colorado has the third-most lightning deaths in the country – Here’s how to stay safe.

A thunderstorm that turned roads into rivers and basements into swimming pools lit up the sky over Greeley on Tuesday night with flashes of light as bright as daytime. Three days earlier, a single lightning strike killed a Jackson County rancher and more than 30 of his cattle. Last week, a storm that raged over Yuma, rumbling like a freight train, buried the plains town in knee-deep hail.

It’s been an intense week, even for Colorado in the spring.

The state, known for its wild electrical storms that seem to come out of nowhere, is third-highest in the nation for lightning deaths. The fatal strike Saturday that killed a cattle rancher outside of Rand in northern Colorado was the 25th lightning death in Colorado since 2006, according to data provided by the National Weather Service in Boulder.

That’s more fatal lightning strikes than all but two other states — Florida, which had 88 during that time period, and Texas, with 39.

Lightning fatalities by state: 2006-2023

Colorado trailed only Florida and Texas in lightning-related deaths between 2006 and 2023, according to the National Lightning Safety Council.


“Lighting strikes aren’t necessarily rare,” said Jennifer Stark, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Boulder. “We get a lot of lighting in Colorado and Colorado is one of the top states for fatalities.”

The death of Colorado rancher Mike Morgan was the first lightning fatality in Colorado since 2020, when a woman was struck while walking her dog in Durango. It was also the first known lightning fatality in the nation in 2024, according to the National Weather Service. By this time in the spring, the United States averages three lightning deaths, based on data from the past decade.

Morgan, 51, was standing on a trailer tossing hay to cows when he was struck. The electricity that killed him also knocked 100 cows and calves off their feet, and at least 32 of them did not get back up, according to the coroner in Jackson County.

His death was the third fatal lightning strike among ranchers or farmers in Colorado since 2006. The other deaths included a 23-year-old man who was riding a mule near Creede in 2008 and a 26-year-old man who was repairing a barbed wire fence near Walden in 2006, according to the Lightning Safety Council.

Farming and ranching rank fifth on the list of most dangerous activities when it comes to lightning, behind fishing, going to the beach, boating and camping.

Stark said the lightning that killed Morgan and his cattle likely traveled from the trailer he was standing on and through the ground. “That’s a huge amount of electricity hitting an object,” she said. “That electricity travels. It’s not just absorbed. If you are with a group of people, you don’t have to be struck directly. It can strike an object near you and it can strike the ground.”

How to protect yourself from lighting

If you’re in a lake when a thunderstorm approaches, get out. If you’re outside, get to a vehicle or a four-sided shelter. And if you’re on a hike with no shelter in sight, crouch into a ball, but do not lie on the ground.

Of the 25 people who died from lightning strikes in Colorado in the past 18 years, two were camping, three were hiking and four were running or walking.

“Don’t stand under a tree,” Stark said. Also, don’t stand out in the open and become the tallest object in the area, she said.

“Crouch down on the balls of your feet, with as little contact with the ground as possible and as low as you can get. But you don’t want to lie on the ground.”

The best option is to find a four-sided shelter, but “if you’re on top of a mountain above treeline, that might not be feasible,” Stark said. Picnic shelters, baseball dugouts or any shelter that doesn’t have four sides is not good enough, she said.

If you’re at home during a thunderstorm, don’t take a shower (electricity can travel through the pipes) and don’t stand near the windows, she said.

Article by Colorado Sun

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