Deadly Lightning, Beware | Climate Change

Washington (GGM) Analysis | July 13, 2021 by author and climate journalist Noreen Wise

Climate change impacts everything connected to 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 (rain bombs), 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 416.72 ppm.) The National Weather Service keeps track of lightning deaths. Florida appears to be the state with the most frequent deaths by lightning. Walking along the beach during a storm is usually what nets the fatal outcome. Texas is close behind, with most of the deaths occurring while men are doing yard maintenance or working hard at a construction sight. The vast majority of deaths are men, 78 percent, and most often take place in yards, parks, beaches, and trails. From 2008-2018, the United States averaged approximately 30 deaths per year, although 2016 was a record breaker at 40 deaths.

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I’m still shaken by a recent near miss when I was out running in the evening last month and a storm rolled in. I was half way though 5K, and was pushing my luck, when I decided to keep on going despite the threatening dark clouds. No sooner did that thought 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 have 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. That was my mistake anyway. (App indicated the deep red blob was 30 minutes away.) Approximately 10 percent of the lightning deaths occur when the shelter is struck by lightning. Most seek shelter under a tree.

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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 Planetthe melting icecaps result in “less of the sun’s energy is reflected back out to space.” Thus, connecting these two dots, we should understand that whenever we see a news flash about the melting glaciers, be aware that this means more intense lightning bolts.

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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 it may be, again, it’s extremely dangerous. Don’t trust your app, trust what you see right in front of you.

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 IPCC report just revealed that global warming has increased by  2ºC, which boosts daily lightning strikes significantly
∙the air that lighting cuts through is instantly 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 5 times hotter than the sun’s surface
∙lightning is bigger, badder & 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. 

No rose without thorns. —French Proverb.
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