Research and Accomplishments

From time to time, the LDC has conducted both formal and informal research into lightning.

The Underreporting of Lightning Injuries and Deaths in Colorado – Part 1

Published statistics for lightning injury and death were commonly derived from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publication Storm Data, which in the early 1990s was derived almost exclusively from newspaper clippings.  It was our hypothesis that lightning strikes had a greater impact on public health than what was being reported in Storm Data, which we suspected was due to the underreporting of lightning injuries.  Starting in the fall of 1992, we set about gathering our own statistics to compare against storm data, and submitted the results for publication in March of 1993, a mere year after our initial meeting.

The paper was accepted in June of 1993, and in November of 1993 it was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Volume 7, #11, under the authorship of Lopez, Holle, Heitkamp, Boyson, Cherington & Langford.  Our report concluded that fatalities over a 12-year period were underreported by 28%, and that injuries over a 4-year period were underreported by 42%.  These results were derived largely from data provided by the Colorado Hospital Association and the Colorado Health Department.  The article can be read here.

The Underreporting of Lightning Injuries and Deaths in Colorado – Part 2

A second, follow-up study, under the authorship of Cherington, Walker, Boyson, Glancy, Hedegaard & Clark provided data for the first time on many Colorado emergency room patients, as well as inpatients and fatalities.  Once again, lightning injuries and fatalities were underreported by 49% (51 versus 100) and 11% (8 versus 9), respectively.  The results of this study were published in 1999 in the Preprints for the 11th Conference on Applied Climatology.  The article can be read here.

Lightning Safety Bag

Over the years we have discussed many specific ideas, but perhaps none more intriguing than the “lightning safety bag.” Based on the idea of the firefighters’ portable fire shelter, this small bag might help to prevent lightning injury in exposed backcountry situations.  You can see a full description of the idea here.

Lightning Safety Poster

In 2007 the group drafted a lightning safety poster – a project spearheaded by LDC members Greg Stewart and the late Dick Burrows.  By October 2012, the poster had been officially incorporated into the National Park Service’s “Hazard Library” and some of the language from the poster has been included in the safety tips for some National Park websites.  The poster can be seen here.

Indirect Contributions

It is fair to say that many contributions of the Lightning Data Center have been more indirect, in the sense that our discussions have informed the scientific publications of several of our members.  Several of our physician members are among the most published authors on the topic of lightning medicine, also known as keraunomedicine.  A high number of the publications are particularly concerned with the neurological complications of lightning injury.

In 1995, two of our members were co-editors of a special two-issue publication of the scientific journal Seminars in Neurology.  These issues (Volume 15, Numbers 3 & 4, published in September and December of 1995) were perhaps the first ever attempt to gather an overview of state-of-the-art medical treatment of lightning injury and featured articles authored by several other Lightning Data Center members.