There may seem to be more pressing problems to worry about. A country full of irate Iranians, for example. Certainly there are enough man-made disasters waiting in the wings that a thunderstorm or two seems to pale by comparison.
But that may be a mistake. Don't underestimate the danger of lightning, warns William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Salt Lake office.As proof, Alder has only to point back to last weekend, when two 5-year-old boys camping with their families west of Huntington, Emery County, were hit by lightning as they took refuge under a pine tree during an afternoon rainstorm. The most severely injured of the two boys is in serious condition in Primary Children's Medical Center.
Lightning is a merciless killer, Alder reminds us as we sit smack dab in the middle of the season when most lightning accidents happen. Since 1950 lightning has killed 27 people in Utah - more than have died as a result of flash floods or any other weather-related disaster. Last year two out-of-state cyclists were killed in Utah's Canyonlands National Park as they tried to wait out a storm by seeking refuge under a solitary tree.
In democratic fashion, nature zaps hikers and campers and golfers, too. Last year three people were killed in their tents on the shore of a lake in New York state, and three others were killed while on a golf course in Tennessee. Several people were struck while playing softball, including two Washington County women who were injured but not killed.
Nationally last year 86 people in 28 states died after being struck by bolts from out of the gray. This was the highest figure in 10 years. In addition, 365 people were reported injured.
Considering the potential for injury, perhaps it's a wonder more people aren't hurt each year. According to the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City, Mo., an estimated 100,000 thunderstorms occur each year in the United States, producing about 90 million lightning strikes that hit the ground.
Despite repeated warnings from our mothers to stay away from open fields and lone trees during a thunderstorm, three-fourths of lightning victims were hit in one of those two spots, according to a study released last year. Nearly 9 out of every 10 victims were males.
And although some people dismiss as an old wives' tale the admonition to stay off the telephone during a thunderstorm, 13-year-old Kati Clark of Pack Creek Ranch near Moab can attest to the fact that lightning can indeed travel through underground lines and up through the receiver. Kati suffered burns on her ear and chest this past April when she was struck while talking on the phone. The lightning also started a fire in the house, causing about $5,000 damage.