Over two days in mid-July, an elderly Colorado woman, 10 farmworkers and three Montana hikers were hit by lightning -- and lived to tell about it. Lightning fatalities in the U.S. have decreased by 75 percent since 1968, partly because of better medical access, more education and safer buildings, but largely because fewer Americans farm or work outside, says Ron Holle, a Tucson meteorologist and lightning expert.
Lightning still packs a punch -- 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit and 200 million volts. But while its frequency generally decreases from the Southeast U.S. to the Northwest, that has little impact on the number of people struck in each state. The time of day is far more important: Nighttime storms on the Plains cause fewer deaths, while summer afternoon storms in the Rockies cause more. The number of people outside matters, too; the Grand Canyon has relatively few strikes but a disproportionate number of deaths, Holle says. Colorado's high peaks and outdoor recreation make it the deadliest Western state -- second in the nation for fatalities but only 32nd for frequency of strikes.
One thing never changes: The biggest risk-takers, males 15 to 35, still account for most fatalities.