Lightning Fatality Urges Caution During Summer Storms

While I usually think of lightning incidents as more of an alpine danger occurring in the Sierra Nevada or Rocky Mountains, this is the second lightening fatality this summer in the Desert Southwest (the other was about a month ago at Grand Canyon). While approaching thunderstorms can be thrilling to watch, PLEASE watch them from a safe place. When “very safe” places like vehicles or buildings are unavailable, do your best to distance yourself from high points and trees. If you can, sit on something insulating, like a backpack, sleeping pad, or rope. Canyons are generally safe places in terms of lightning, as you are between two high points, whereas places like Angels Landing are very dangerous in a lightning storm.

Look here for detailed information from USFS ranger Melanie Fullman on the science behind lightning and specific recommendations on how to be safe in a lightning storm.

Lightning Strikes Behind the Watcman. NPS Photo

Lightning Causes One Fatality in Bryce Canyon National Park

An international visitor was killed by lightning along the Rim Trail between Sunrise and Sunset Points in Bryce Canyon National Park on Thursday, August 18. The victim was identified as Volker Kunz, 51, from Hamm, Germany.

At approximately 12:20 PM, Mr. Kunz and his family were on the Rim Trail near Sunset Point when a rapidly developing thunderstorm approached the area. The family began returning to their vehicle to seek shelter from the rain. Mr. Kunz sought refuge under a large ponderosa pine. Lightning directly struck the tree Mr. Kunz was standing under and its energy was transferred to him. Family members ran to the Bryce Canyon Lodge nearby to call for help. A registered nurse and her husband, visiting from Washington State, were first on the scene and determined that Kunz had no pulse. They immediately began performing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Park rangers and Garfield County emergency medical technicians soon arrived and continued CPR. Attempts to revive him continued while he was transported by ambulance to Garfield Memorial Hospital in Panguitch, Utah, 25 miles away. Hospital staff took over care of the patient but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. Mr. Kunz is survived by his wife and two sons.

This incident is a tragic reminder that summer storms in the Southwest, including at Bryce Canyon National Park, are often accompanied by potentially deadly lightning. Visitors to the park are reminded that if the sound of thunder follows a lightning flash within 30 seconds or less, they should seek shelter immediately in a building or vehicle and not under a tree or near any high point of land. The last lightning-caused fatality in the park was in 2004.

For more information on lightning safety, visit



About Nick

Nick Wilkes found ZAC in 1996, working first as an outfitter, then a guide, then as webmaster. An ardent adventure enthusiast, Nick's recent exploits involve laying down roots in Wisconsin, chasing his kids around the house, working as a Madison, WI photographer and growing his Wisconsin climbing business. Connect with Nick on Facebook, Google+, or directly via email.
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One Response to Lightning Fatality Urges Caution During Summer Storms

  1. avatar Jerry of Laguna says:

    The book Shattered Air tells the frightening story about a group of hikers caught on the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome when lightning strikes. It is a cautionary tale of individuals not heeding the warnings about an impending storm and the deadly consequences resulting from their act of bravado. A must-read for anyone who ventures into high-country wilderness settings where thunderstorms are a possibility.