The number and frequency of lightning strikes is increasing globally. The proverbial bolt out of the blue is killing more people every year. Between April 2020 and March 2021, 18.5 million lightning strikes were recorded in India. This was a 34 percent increase from the 13.8 million strikes between April 2019 and March 2020. These figures were shared in a webinar on lightning, organized by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) and a magazine. The webinar attempts to understand why the number of lightning strikes is increasing, and why they are related to climate change and increasing urbanization.
Some of the states hit by these strikes are Punjab, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal. In Punjab, the number of lightning strikes increased by 331 percent annually, while in Bihar – where 401 people died due to lightning during the year – increased by 168 percent. A total of 1,697 people were killed by lightning in India between March 2020 and April 2021. “There is increasing scientific evidence that climate change could lead to more lightning flashes around the world. Rapid urbanization and population growth have guaranteed the intensity of human exposure to the threat of lightning.” says the managing editor of the magazine.
There are now substantial global studies coming out about this phenomenon. A 2015 University of California study estimated that a 1℃ increase in average global temperature would result in a 12 percent increase in lightning frequency. Another paper, which will soon be published in a journal, warns that the frequency and intensity of lightning strikes in India are expected to increase by 10-25 percent and 15-50 percent, respectively, by the end of the century.A foreseeable dimension of the increase in the number of lightning strikes is their link to wildfires. “Scientists from a university in Srinagar and an institute in Kanpur have studied the concentration of cloud condensation nuclei (CCNs) under different weather conditions in the central Himalayan region. They have found five times higher concentrations of CCN in the atmosphere during forest fires than during rain. In May 2021, researchers in Australia linked additional CCN to an increasing number of lightning strikes during the 2019–20 Australian wildfires,” says Kiran Pandey, Program Director, CSE’s Environmental Resources Unit.