Danger in desert strikes during the monsoon

Published: Jun. 14, 2023 at 10:45 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 15, 2023 at 10:11 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - When thunder roars, go indoors! That’s the motto for monsoon safety, but some in southern Arizona see the flash and dash toward the light.

“If you can hear thunder, that means lightning is close enough to strike your position,” said Ken Drozd, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, NWS Tucson.

The danger in the desert strikes during the monsoon. In just three months, Arizona sees nearly a year’s worth of lightning.

“In a typical year here in Arizona, we have over the whole state about 600,000 cloud-to-ground flashes,” said Ron Holle, Meteorologist.

Just one cloud-to-ground strike can generate between 100 million and 1 billion volts reaching temperatures over 50-thousand degrees Fahrenheit.

Each one is capable of sparking a wildfire.

“Something called dry lightning. That happens when lightning occurs from clouds aloft, but there’s no rain coming to the ground,” said Holle.

We saw it with the Bighorn Fire in 2020, the Rafael Fire in 2021, and the Contreras Fire just last year. Even the deadly Yarnell Hill fire nearly ten years ago sparked from lightning. That fire killed 19 hotshots.

“It’s dangerous. It’s not the safest thing to do. To go stand outside while lightning drops beside you,” said Nicholas Boettcher, Storm Chaser. Sometimes it’s 100 yards from you. I literally was almost hit by lightning. It struck on the other side of my vehicle. I was shooting on the left side and the bolt dropped on the right side. I have a picture of my shadow from the lightning bolt photo.

Our clear skies are the perfect canvas for storm chasers, but a money shot like this doesn’t come easy.

“My first lightning shot was caught on a cellphone. Start there and chase your dream,” said Boettcher.

Whatever your dream may be, for Ron Holle, the monsoon-inspired research.

“My coauthor and I just finished our book two weeks ago. Springer Press. It’s all about lightning Arizona,” said Holle.

The book is called “Flashes of Brilliance” by Ronald L. Holle and Daile Zhang. For others, lightning is just left to the spectators but a reminder to be inspired from afar.

The safest place to be is indoors.

“Under a tree, you don’t want to be there. You don’t want to be under a ramada, something that’s not an actual structure that will protect you from that electricity,” said Drozd.

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