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How Climate Change Affects Lightning

A Shift in Lightning Patterns

With around 100 strikes per second, lightning currently hits the ground around eight million times per day, but that number could be set to dramatically increase as global warming accelerates. Scientist predict, we could expect to see a 12% increase in lightning activity for every 1°C of warming, meaning countries like the US could see a 50% increase in the number of strikes by the end of the century.

Increase in Intense Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms happen because of convection, the Earth’s surface heated by sunlight and infrared radiation causes water to condense as buoyant air rises.

As CO2 increases and the land surface warms, stronger updrafts are more likely to produce lightning. In a climate with double the amount of CO2, we may see fewer lightning storms overall, but 25% stronger storms, with a 5% increase in lightning.

The Damage

Lightning damage will increase because of its role in igniting forest fires, where dry vegetation, also caused by rising temperatures, creates more ‘fuel’ for fires, so even a small change in climate may have huge consequences.

For example, lightning strikes killed 147 people in just 10 days during the summer in the north Indian state of Bihar, with the unprecedented surge in deaths caused by lightning being blamed on climate change.

The last decade has been the hottest in India since records began. The rising temperatures have also been linked to frequent heatwaves followed by delayed but more intense monsoons, with deadly lightning strikes now expected by those who live there.

The distribution of lightning is directly linked to the Earth’s climate, which is driven by solar insolation.

Lightning activity is dependent on surface temperatures over short periods of time, and due to projections of a warmer climate in the future, one of the key questions is what the impact of impending global warming on lightning, thunderstorms, and other severe weather will be.

What to Do

While the impact climate change will have on our weather still remains uncertain, researchers agree that by implementing simple measures like installing lightning protection systems in buildings could go a long way in avoiding deaths and injuries.

Thunderstorm patterns can’t be changed, but the protection is out there, with lightning protection systems acting as the only reliable and consistent way of protecting buildings from lightning strikes.

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