GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (CBS4) – Predicting when and where thunderstorms hit is easy meteorology compared to pinpointing the potential for lightning strikes — a difficult but perhaps solvable task thanks to new technology.
“Lightning is a beast,” says Paul Frisbie, a scientist with the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction. “When we’re really in the monsoon season, sometimes they start get going at 11 a.m. We’re trying to come up with better timing details so people can use that information.”
Frisbie is working on a lightning potential index, or LPI, that can predict lightning patterns, raise awareness and decrease casualties.
The LPI categorizes storms in four color-coded regions in a computer model: red, yellow, green and light green.
“Red is a big screaming message to say lightning is a big threat for that location that particular time,” Frisbie says.
Lightning has struck more than 400 people in Colorado since 1980. The state’s peak season for lightning is mid-July through mid-September, and August’s monsoon storms are especially dangerous.
Hiking is still safer in the morning because the sun baking the land in the afternoon makes it more likely lightning will strike. That general safety rule was spotlighted in July, when two hikers were killed on trails at Rocky Mountain National Park on back-to-back days.