Deadly Lightning, Beware | Climate Change

Washington (ONGC) Analysis | August 22, 2022 by author and climate journalist Noreen Wise; Updated from original article, July 13, 2021

Climate change is impacting everything about our weather, down to the small details. From the heat of a forest fire, to the strength of a hurricane, the amount of moisture in clouds, and the force of rain microbursts, down to the size and intensity of a lightning strike. 

Lightning strikes can kill, and are far more dangerous than 20 years ago when our atmospheric carbon level was only 370 ppm. (Today we’re at an alarming 421 ppm.) The National Weather Service keeps track of lightning deaths. Florida appears to be the state with the most frequent. Walking along the beach during a storm, is usually what results in a fatal outcome. Texas is close behind, with most deaths occurring while men are busy with lawn maintenance or working at a construction sight. The vast majority of deaths are men, 78 percent, and most often take place in parks, yards, beaches, and trails. From 2008-2018, the United States averaged approximately 30 deaths per year, although 2016 broke records at 40 deaths.

I’m still shaken by a recent near miss when I was out running one June evening and a storm rolled in. I was half way through my evening 5K, and was pushing my luck, when I decided to keep on going despite the threatening dark clouds. No sooner did this idea pass through my mind, that an enormous lightning bolt stabbed the ground nearby. I screamed, dashed to my car and sped away. I now speculate that that’s what most likely happens to those who’ve met a grim fate. We keep doing what we were doing despite the pending storm, and rely more on what our weather app might show, or what we want to believe. That was my mistake anyway, (the App indicated the deep red blob was 30 minutes away.) Approximately 10% of the lightning deaths occur when a shelter is struck by lightning. Most seek shelter under a tree.

The heart of the matter. As explained in the Environment Journal, thunderstorms are a result of convection. The “heating of the earth’s surface by sunlight and infrared radiation causes water to condense as buoyant air rises.” Further, Sir David Attenborough explains in his powerful documentary A Life on Our Planet, the melting icecaps result in “less of the sun’s energy being reflected back out to space.” Thus, we should understand that whenever we see a news flash about the melting glaciers, we must be aware that this triggers more intense lightning bolts.

Lightning is to be feared, not admired. It can cause an enormous amount of damage. Further, lightning starts most of the forest fires. As mesmerizing as lightning may be, again, it’s extremely dangerous. Don’t trust your app, trust what you see in front of you.

Environment Journal Lightning facts:

∙approximately 100 lightning strikes per second across globe
∙lightning strikes the ground 8 million times a day
∙there will be a 12% increase in the number of daily lightning strikes with every 1°C warming  
∙the air that lighting cuts through is instantly 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, five times hotter than the sun’s surface
∙lightning is bigger, badder and more destructive due to climate change

Towns and cities should be required to install the proper lightning infrastructure to protect citizens and property. Parks should be required to build safe lightning shelters.

Lightning Infrastructure:

∙lightning detection system
∙lightning warning system
∙lightning grounding system

Lightning is random and unpredictable. It’s a universal threat that impacts all 50 states. 

© 2021. ALL Rights Reserved.

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