NWS in Grand Junction launches tool that can forecast lightning more than 2 days out

Lightning Potential Index limited to western Colo.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - A new tool from the National Weather Service in Grand Junction can forecast lightning more than two days in advance.

Lightning is the No. 1 weather-related killer in Colorado. NWS officials say on average, three people are killed by lightning each year in Colorado and 13 are injured.

Since 1980, 93 people have been killed by lightning in Colorado, yet severe weather gets most of the attention in a forecast.

"Most of our warnings are geared to strong winds and hail stones, not so much lightning," said NWS meteorologist Paul Frisbie.

So meteorologists in Grand Junction developed the Lightning Potential Index for their area of western Colorado and eastern Utah, and made it available to the public on their website.

It shows a color coded lightning threat level from low to moderate in green, high risk in yellow, and extreme risk in red. It also allows you to scroll through in 3 hour increments from the current Mountain Time through the next 60 hours.

That's crucial information for the many in the state that expose themselves to the weather every day.

"I realize how unpredictable the weather can be in Colorado, so I'm always looking for the latest technology to give me an edge," said hiker Nate Ferguson.

The value of this forecast has been amplified by the two recent lightning deaths in Colorado -- one, a hiker and the other a tourist in a parking overlook in Rocky Mountain National Park.

"That's why we designed this product to begin with, so people can make decisions," said Frisbie.

For now, the Lightning Potential Index is only available in western Colorado. But if the feedback is positive, we could see other NWS offices adopt it.

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