The number and frequency of lightning strikes is increasing globally. The proverbial bolts from the blue are killing more people every subsequent year. But why?
Between April 2020 and March 2021, 18.5 million lightning strikes were recorded in India. This was a 34 per cent increase from the 13.8 million strikes between April 2019 and March 2020.
These statistics were shared at a webinar on lightning strikes here today, which attempted to understand why lightning strikes were surging, and their connection to growing urbanisation.
The most badly hit states are Punjab, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal.
In Punjab, the increase in number of lightning strikes has been a staggering 331% annually, while in Bihar – where 401 people lost their lives to lightning strikes during the year – there was a 168% rise.
Overall, 1,697 people lost their lives due to lightning in India between March 2020 and April 2021.
Why are we seeing a spike of lightnings?
- Water: To make lightning a cloud needs to generate an electric field, which it does using water. The more water a cloud processes, the more lightning we should expect. And the more energy available to a cloud, the faster it rises and longer it can keep water drops and ice particles suspended, so, again, the more lightning we should see.
- Season: Warmer atmospheres absorb a greater quantity of moisture so increased humidity in the air means harsher, more powerful thunderstorms and thus more likelihood of lightning.
- Temperature: A 2015 California University study has projected that an increase in average global temperatures by 1ºC would increase the frequency of lightning by 12%. In India, lightning bolts are expected to increase by 10-25% and 15-50% respectively by the end of the century. Assuming that 12 per cent figure is accurate, the continental United States can expect to see an increase in lightning strikes per year from the present 20 million to 30 million by 2100, Climate Central calculates.
- Cloud condensation nuclei (CCN): The concentration of cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) is five-time higher during forest fires than during rain. In May 2021, researchers in Australia linked excess CCN to the increased number of lightning strikes during the 2019-20 Australia forest fires.
- Geoengineering? Darpa: Nimbus: The U.S. military is looking to tame lightning, which remains one of nature’s most confounding — and feared — phenomena.
Both surface temperature and moisture levels have increased significantly in recent years. Urbanisation leading to loss of tree cover also contributes to the rise in surface temperature.
The rise in deaths can be because more people are outdoors and possibly exposed to lightning in recent years.
How to protect yourself from lightnings?
You can protect yourself from risk even if you are caught outdoors when lightning is close by.
- If the weather forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone your trip or activity.
- When thunder roars, go indoors. Find a safe, enclosed shelter. Safe shelters include homes, offices, shopping centers, and hard-top vehicles with the windows rolled up.
- Don’t forget the 30-30 rule. After you see lightning, start counting to 30. If you hear thunder before you reach 30, go indoors. Suspend activities for at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.
- If you are caught in an open area, act quickly to find adequate shelter. The most important action is to remove yourself from danger. Crouching or getting low to the ground can reduce your chances of being struck but does not remove you from danger.
- If you are caught outside with no safe shelter nearby, the following actions may reduce your risk:
- Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges, or peaks.
- Never lie flat on the ground. Crouch down in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ears so that you are down low with minimal contact with the ground.
- Never shelter under an isolated tree.
- Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
- Immediately get out of and away from ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water.
- Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (such as barbed wire fences, power lines, or windmills).
- Stay away from concrete floors or walls. Lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.
So why do you think lightning strikes increase in India and around the world? [cseIndia]
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