While little rain has fallen in Grand Junction so far this monsoon season, the dangers that come along with the storms are very real.
Monsoon season on the western slope means fast developing thunderstorms that carry a lot of rain and lightning. For 31 year old Brandon Baker, Tuesday’s hike up Long’s Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Forest was like any other. Hiking under clear skies one minute, then danger quickly moved in. "15 minutes later the clouds rolled in, I felt my hair stand on end," says Baker. Feeling the static charge of the atmosphere, he went for cover immediately. The only cover he could find. "I was under a rock, went through the rock, hit my head and came back out," says Baker.
Rocks are not the only obstacle that lightning can overcome. "Lightning has been documented to travel up to 20 miles away from a thunderstorm," says Jim Pringle of the National Weather Service. Fortunately Baker felt one of the warning signs of an eminent lightning strike and was lucky enough to live through the ordeal.
Lightening is not the only danger that comes with these severe thunderstorms. "Clear blue skies overhead and then ½ hour to an hour later you have a big wall of water come down through drainage," says Pringle. Flash floods can appear out of nowhere, from storms that are miles away. "It doesn’t have to be raining where you are to experience a flash flood in this part of the country," says Pringle. The same sandstone formations that makes hiking in the grand valley fun, carries the flood waters through canyons allowing little to soak in, causing trouble for hikers, sometimes days away. "From a rainstorm that occurred the previous evening, they got hit by that flash flood," says Pringle.
The best thing you can do is plan ahead. Do your outdoor activities earlier in the day during monsoon season and watch your local forecast. Warnings are usually posted a day in advance of strong storms. If you are caught facing an approaching flood, the best thing you can do is head for higher ground.
As for lightning. "Make sure everyone knows where the shelter is so they can quickly reach that shelter," says Pringle. Indoors is the safest place to be when lightning strikes, just ask Brandon Baker. "I don’t remember going to sleep on my own, just waking up the next day," says Baker. He is lucky enough to walk away with minor injuries. "My hands are a little bit numb and my feet are a little bit numb," says Baker.
Because most people who are struck, die or live the rest of their lives with permanent disabilities.