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Plan ahead, start early, stay alert: Lightning safety tips for mountain visitors

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DENVER - Lightning strikes have killed two tourists and injured others in recent days in Rocky Mountain National Park. The strikes happened along a popular road that is above treeline and is prone to rapidly-developing early afternoon summer thunderstorms. Here are some precautions mountain visitors should take to stay safe:

CHECK THE WEATHER: According to the park, a bright summer day can turn stormy within minutes, with lightning, high winds and even snow. In the Rocky Mountains, thunderstorms typically develop in the early afternoon. Elsewhere, ask rangers or check the weather service to learn about the weather patterns of the area you are visiting.

GET OUT EARLY: If hiking, start your hike early in the day — and plan to be down the mountain by noon. Summer thunderstorms can form quickly anytime in the afternoon. Get below treeline or to safe shelter before a storm strikes.

STAY ALERT: If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you. If you see lightning in the distance, it's close enough to strike you. And at altitude, if skies look threatening, a thunderstorm can develop immediately overhead. A significant lightning threat generally extends up to 10 miles from the base of a thunderstorm cloud. And on rarer occasions, bolts can strike up to 15 miles from a thunderstorm.

ABOVE TREELINE: Get inside your vehicle immediately, do not lean against the doors, and wait at least 30 minutes after a storm passes overhead. If you are away from a vehicle, get away from summits, isolated trees and rocks. Find shelter but avoid small cave entrances and rock overhangs. They won't protect you. Crouch down on your heels.

BELOW TREELINE: If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees. Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects.

WHAT'S SAFE SHELTER: Tents, trees, small caves and picnic shelters are not safe. A vehicle or a substantive, enclosed building are. Stay away from water and any metal.

ESSENTIALS: Carry these: Raingear, map and compass, flashlight or headlamp, sunglasses and sunscreen, matches or other fire starter, candles, extra food and water, extra layers of clothing, pocketknife, and a first aid kit.

___

For more information:

National Weather Service: http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/index.htm

Rocky Mountain National Park: http://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/yoursafety.htm

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