Second lightning fatality in TX this year
By LYNETTE HAALAND
Four Points News
Michelle Ann Wolfe was killed by a lightning strike while jogging on a trail in River Place on Sept. 25. Wolfe, 37, was discovered by a runner around 5:36 p.m. off of River Place Boulevard.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office detectives noticed a downed tree limb near her body and observed that objects in the immediate vicinity were singed. The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that a lightning strike caused the accidental death.
Wolfe’s roommate’s boyfriend said that his girlfriend called him and that she was hysterical about the situation after TCSO officials informed her that her roommate was struck by lightning and killed. Wolfe’s phone at the scene was zapped out and officials asked the roommate for help with phone numbers so they could notify Wolfe’s family. The roommate’s boyfriend went to help go through Wolfe’s things to find this information and commented how difficult that was, according to a friend of his.
Wolfe had just completed her Ph.D. at the University of Texas and was looking to move back to Seattle to be by her family, said Stephanie Taylor Twohey, who knew Wolfe from her East Austin gym. FOX News interviewed Twohey.
“I guess if I could find some grain of some comfort, she was where she loved to be. Outside and alone,” said Twohey. “She was my athlete first and became my friend over the two years that I knew her.”
Twohey told FOX News that she last saw her the day before she was killed when the two worked out together. They talked about hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, Twohey said.
“I think that’s where she seemed happiest. Just being outside. Being from the Pacific Northwest she loved mountains, cold weather, the greens and the blues,” Twohey told FOX.
A memorial for Wolfe was to be held at Grit Gym this week.
National Weather Service calculates the odds of being struck by lightning in any given year at 1 in 1.04 million, and 1 in 13,000 over an 80-year lifetime.
NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Paul Yura told KVUE that Wolfe’s death appears to be the first lightning death in Austin/Travis County since 1996, and first in the Austin metro area since 1998.
On April 6, 1996, a 51-year-old man visiting from Scotland was struck by lightning while on a golf course, and died April 13. A 38-year-old Georgetown man was struck by lightning July 19, 1998 while cleaning his pool and died an hour later, according to NWS data.
The death of Wolfe is the second lightning fatality in Texas in 2016, according to NWS data. The other death from a lightning strike came in late August when Gabriel Ramos, 23, was struck by lightning in a park near Lubbock.
Wolfe’s death marks the 36th lightning fatality in the U.S. in 2016, the most since 2009. The NWS also shows that Wolfe is the eighth woman in the U.S. to be killed by lightning this year, according to NWS.
KXAN reports that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there has been an average of 51 lightning strike deaths each year in the U.S. over the past 20 years, and numbers are higher in 2016.
KXAN reports that 2016 will end up being one of the three deadliest years in the past decade and the NWS experts speculate that it’s because people aren’t taking storms as seriously as they should.
Lightning strikes can commonly occur 10-15 miles from a thunderstorm, but strikes away from a parent storm are possible up to 100 miles.
Two years ago Alex Hermann, 9-year-old Austin boy, was hit by lightning during soccer practice and took months to recover. Hermann was believed to have been hit by an isolated lightning strike located a distance away from the parent thunderstorm.
Most people who are hit by lightning do survive, up to 90 percent. But the recovery can sometimes take years, often with permanent brain or eye damage, even paralysis, KXAN reports.