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A tool for planning for lightning

A couple of weeks ago, I took a Monday off and was doing a road ride with my buddy Bob when we got ambushed by a lightning storm.

We rode down to Iron Bridge via that rolling Garfield County road across the Roaring Fork River from Highway 82. We were having a pleasant day as we started heading back to get on the Rio Grande Trail and return to Basalt.

The sky was partly sunny, but there was energy in them thar clouds. There was a flash of lighting detectable even though it was a bright day, then, of course, came a big boom. Before we knew it, we were on the exposed portion of the Rio Grande Trail west of Aspen Glen. The first flash and boom had been at our backs. The next one came from our right flank, then the storm raced out ahead of us, to our relief. By then, the clouds were closing in and getting dark. Rain looked inevitable. We did the only logical thing: We hightailed it to Carbondale to wait out the storm at the Roaring Fork Beer Company’s tasting room. We didn’t wait long enough. We got soaked between Catherine and El Jebel.



Anybody who spends any time hiking or biking in the mountains knows that lightning is a frequent risk. That’s why it’s always best to get an early start and wrap up before the afternoon thunderstorms roll in.

Sometimes that’s not possible. Other times, Mother Nature throws a curve.




The National Weather Service office in Grand Junction can help, in a general sense. Its website includes a page for a Lightning Potential Index for eastern Utah and western Colorado. The graphic loop cycles through a 60-hour period and shows the potential for lightning in three-hour increments. The map shows low, moderate, high and extreme risks of lightning. The website warns that the index should be used for “general” planning only.

This week is Lightning Safety Awareness Week, so it’s a particularly good time to bookmark the page. It’s at http://www.weather.gov/gjt/lightning potentialindex. It also includes a link to a lightning safety page to give mountain adventurers a little peace of mind.


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