Reliable statistics on lightning deaths and injuries are needed to raise the awareness of the community to the lightning threat and to educate the public to avoid situations vulnerable to lightning injuries. The principal source of information for lightning casualty data in the United States is NOAA's Storm Data. However, several authors have claimed that this publication underreports lightning deaths and injuries. The authors have conducted a detailed investigation of this issue for Colorado from 1980 to 1991 for fatalities, and from 1988 to 1991 for injuries.
It was found that Storm Data relies almost exclusively on newspapers for information on casualties due to lightning. A detailed examination of the flow of casualty information through newspapers to Storm Data revealed that information could be lost at several different stages in the reporting procedure.
Colorado Health Department death certificates and Colorado Hospital Association hospital discharge records were used as benchmarks to quantify the degree of completeness of the Storm Data records. It was found that Storm Data underreported deaths by 28% over the 12 years relative to the death certificate records, and that it underreported injuries requiring hospitalization by at least 42% compared to the hospital records. The authors suspect that the underreporting of injuries not needing hospitalization is even greater.
*National Severe Storms Laboratory, NOAA, Norman, Oklahoma
+National Weather Service, NOAA, Denver, Colorado
**St. Anthony Hospital Lightning Data Center, Denver, Colorado