Manmade Global Warming may Lead to 50 Percent Increase in Lightning Flashes by Turn of Century: Study

The warming climate can cause rising sea levels, the displacement and extinction of animal species, and the melting of the polar ice caps. Now, a new study has revealed another unwanted consequence of climate change, more lightning strikes.

In a new study published in the journal Science on Nov. 14, atmospheric scientist David Romps, from the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues reported that global warming may lead to an increase in lightning strikes in the United States.

The researchers used 11 different models to predict lightning strikes based on the rates of precipitation and the energy available to make the air in the atmosphere rise and found that for every 1 degree Celsius rise in global average air temperature, the frequency of lightning strikes will rise by 12 percent.

“To make lightning, you need two ingredients: Water in all three phases coexisting-so liquid, vapor, and ice-and clouds rising quickly enough to loft that ice and keep it suspended,” Romps said. “The hypothesis we had is that lightning would be proportional to the product of precipitation, which is how much water is processed, times this measure of storm vigor.”

The researchers said that the occurrence of lightning flashes across the country could increase by about 50 percent during this century because of man-made global warming and this could have serious implications.

“Storms convert CAPE times precipitated water mass to discharged lightning energy with an efficiency of 1 percent,” the researchers wrote. “When this proxy is applied to 11 climate models, CONUS lightning strikes are predicted to increase 12 ± 5 percent per degree Celsius of global warming and about 50% over this century.”

A study conducted by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) reveals that from 2006 to 2013, there were 261 people in the U.S. who were struck and killed by lightning, making this weather phenomenon one of the deadliest in the U.S.

With the projected increase in lightning flashes, every two lightning strikes in the year 2000 will be about three lightning strikes by the year 2100, which means that the 20 million strikes that hit the U.S. per year could increase by 30 million per year. With more strikes, the number of lightning-related fatalities and injuries could increase as well.

The rise in lightning strike frequency is also a concern for wildfires because lightning is responsible for at least half of these fires. Firefighters also have more difficulty with lightning-triggered wildfires because they often start far from road networks and human settlements.