A Rancher in Colorado and 34 Cattle Were Killed in Deadly Lightning Strike

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: May 27, 2024

A fatal accident on a cattle ranch in Colorado left 34 cows dead, along with the rancher who owned the farm.

While tossing bales of hay on his ranch in Northern Colorado, Mike Morgan, 51, was struck by lightning on Saturday. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office reported that Morgan was feeding more than 100 of his cattle when the incident occurred.

The Lightning Impact Decimated the Ranch

The lightning strike that killed Morgan and 34 of his cattle was strong enough to lift the rancher and the animals off their feet in the process.

Pitchfork Ranch employees herd cattle with a beautiful view

George Crocket, the Jackson County coroner, told the Colorado Sun that lightning strikes can easily kill. Crocket says that the lightning most likely struck the metal trailer Morgan was taking the hay out of. After it bounced off the metal, it electrocuted Morgan and his cattle that were standing around him in anticipation of their meal. 

Two Survivors of the Lightning Strike

Morgan, his wife, and his father-in-law were all working on the farm at the time of the incident. They had just finished branding some of the cattle and set out to feed them before heading inside.

A large pink lightning bolt strikes a wide open farm with dark clouds above

Source: @nypost/X

The cows were bunched up around the trailer, which caused them to succumb to the lightning. Thankfully, Morgan’s wife and father-in-law both survived the terrible incident.

Where the Incident Occurred

The fatal lightning strike occurred in the town of Rand, just 120 miles northwest of Denver.

A tall metal windmill on a wide open farm with blue mountain in the background

Source: @KatKathkit/X

A light rain began to roll in when lightning hit the ground at 2:08 p.m. MDT.

Coroner Has Seen Similar Deaths

Crocket recounted a similar time when he saw multiple casualties because of a lightning strike on a farm.

A large lightning bold huts a dry grass field

Source: @amazinglybeaut/X

He once saw a lightning bolt hit his grandfather’s ranch, and seven heads of cattle died at once. He noted similar incidents had happened in the area, but usually, one horse or cow would die at a time.

First Time a Strike Was Recorded in Jackson County

The National Weather Service keeps detailed records of lightning and weather-related deaths and injuries in Colorado.

A long road moving through a valley between two ascending mountains covered with red brush and green trees

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This strike was the first time that such a death of a person has been recorded in Jackson County.


Reminder To Stay Away From Metal During a Storm

Although the intricacies of storm safety might not be on everyone’s mind during a light rain storm, this accident is a stark reminder that anything can happen.

A metal weather vane with an arrow the letters NESW

Source: Jordan Ladikos/Unsplash

The NWS recommends staying far away from metal fences, railings and bleachers during a thunderstorm to avoid being electrocuted from proximity. Metal is a natural conductor of lightning and electricity.


Colorado Ranks 19th in U.S. For Lightning Strikes

Storms and lightning remain incredibly common in the high-elevation state of Colorado. The Western state welcomes plenty of storms trapped by the surrounding mountain ranges.

Source: Lake Superior Magazine

In a single year, the state records roughly 500,000 lightning flashes that hit the ground.


How Often Are People Killed by Lightning in Colorado?

In a given year, there are two fatalities and 12 injuries caused by lightning strikes in the state. However, the majority of these are people who are already outside hiking or biking.

A view of a large meadow and mountain range with wild flowers, trees and a blue sky

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In May 2017, a 37-year-old woman was riding a horse in Douglas County when she was struck and killed by lightning. Hikers have also been killed on Mt. Yale and Rocky Mountain National Park.


Colorado Ranks High For Lightning-Related Deaths

From 2008 to 2018, Colorado ranked seventh in the U.S. for lightning-related fatalities. The majority of the deaths were related to people partaking in outdoor activities or sheltering in place during a storm.

A large farm with a brown barn and large snow capped mountains in the background

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Last year, Wyoming was the top-ranked state, another western state known for its excellent hiking, fishing, and outdoor activities.


What Month Is the Most Dangerous?

The storm season in July is the most dangerous for storms and weather-related casualties. As global warming increases, more extreme weather-related events are likely to occur.

A Chevrolet truck drives through a Florida storm.

Source: Jim Brooks/Wikimedia

This year, the states surrounding the southern Gulf Coast are currently preparing for one of the worst Hurricane seasons on record.


What Are the Odds of Being Struck?

The Lightning Safety Council reports that the odds of being struck by lightning are 1-in-1.16 million. The odds depend on a lot of factors, such as your location during a storm and your behaviour.

A large lightning strike in the distance of an expansive field with dry grass and a few green bushes

Source: Raychel Sanner/Unsplash

Staying inside during a storm is the best chance of avoiding being struck by lightning in a high-risk area. The CDC offers additional safety guidelines, including avoiding all water, as lightning can travel through plumbing in a building. Also, stay away from all electronic equipment or metal wires, windows, doors, porches, or concrete, and metal structures like pergolas or playgrounds.