Climate change includes increasing lightning strikes

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Lightning strikes in the lower 48 U.S. states will increase about 12% for every degree rise in Earth’s average temperature, potentially sparking more wildfires, according to a new study.

The new estimate was based on calculations of convective energy and precipitation from future thunderstorms, and fits three independent data sets chronicling past strikes, according to the study, published online Thursday in the journal Science.

“You need two ingredients to make lightning in a storm,” said the study’s lead investigator, David Romps, a climate scientist at UC Berkeley. “One of those is that you have water in its three phases — vapor, liquid and ice — coexisting in the cloud. And the other is that the storm clouds be rising quickly enough to loft that liquid and ice into the atmosphere and keep it suspended. So we’ve built our proxy around those two ideas.”

Previous formulas were built around predicted cloud heights and did not account for as much of the variance in actual strikes as the new proxy does, according to the study. The new proxy explains about 77% of the variance in strikes.

A 12% rise for every degree Celsius works out to about a 50% rise over this century

It’s only conjecture; but, you would have to think an increase in lightning strikes will forge an equivalent rise in the number of wildfires – lightning causing about half of all wildfires. Not a feature of climate change that anyone in mountain and forest country looks forward to.

Thanks, Mike

14 thoughts on “Climate change includes increasing lightning strikes

  1. Langmuir says:

    Lightning kills about 65 people a year in Cuba, the country’s Institute of Geophysics and Astronomy revealed this week, with most fatalities occurring during the cyclone season, from June to November. Cuba ranks seventh in lighting fatalities in the world, after Mexico, Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, Romania and Colombia.
    A 2014 report from the Atmospheric Electricity Group (ELAT), a division of Brazil’s Ministry of Science and Technology about lightning-related deaths in 10 Latin American countries, found that droughts caused by El Niño could partly explain the increase in lightning deaths in the past 30 years, with warmer, drier air resulting in more thunder storms.

  2. Heads up says:

    “At least 4 dead, hundreds sickened in Australia asthma attacks triggered by thunderstorm”
    “…Respiratory disease scientists predict that thunderstorm asthma outbreaks are likely to happen with increased frequency, as an overall warmer globe brings about more severe weather. …Fungal spores, too, can exacerbate asthma during thunderstorms. “When it rains, it spores,” as microbiologist Susan Kosisky told The Washington Post in 2014.”

  3. Lightnin' Hopkins says:

    (11/25/17): “Lightning strikes leave behind a radioactive cloud : Gamma rays produced by lightning hit atomic nuclei, transforming them.”
    (1/13/11): “Lightning and the associated electric field above a thunderstorm can be strong enough to produce a gamma ray blast detectable from space. These terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) are believed to occur all over the world at a rate of about 500 per day. Researchers using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have discovered a similar, but previously undetected phenomena: the production of an antimatter beam from the top of these storms.”

    • Kōan says:

      Thunderbolt of lightning, gamma rays exciting : Researchers connect lightning with gamma-ray phenomena in clouds (University of Tokyo 6/25/19)
      “There are two known kinds of gamma-ray phenomena associated with thunderclouds: gamma-ray glows, weak emissions which last about a minute, and short-lived terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs), which occur as lightning strikes and are much more intense than gamma-ray glows. Both occur in regions of thunderclouds sandwiched between layers of varying charge. The charged regions accelerate electrons to near the speed of light. At these speeds, referred to as relativistic, electrons that stray very close to the nuclei of nitrogen atoms in the air slow down a little and emit a telltale gamma ray. This is called bremsstrahlung radiation.”
      Bremsstrahlung radiation is the radiation given off by a charged particle (most often an electron) due to its acceleration caused by an electric field of another charged particle (most often a proton or an atomic nucleus). The word “Bremsstrahlung” is a German word meaning “braking radiation,” which refers to the way in which electrons are “braked” when they hit a metal target. See

      • Missing ling says:
        “…The mechanism underlying lightning discharge is highly sought after and this research may offer previously unknown insights. University of Tokyo graduate student Yuuki Wada and team intend to further their investigation to explore the possibility that gamma-ray glows don’t just precede lightning strikes, but may in fact cause them. Radiation levels of the gamma-ray flashes are quite low, approximately a tenth the level one may receive from a typical medical X-ray.
        “Our finding marks a milestone in lightning research and we will soon double our number of radiation sensors from 23 to about 40 or 50. With more sensors, we could greatly improve predictive models,” explained Wada. “It’s hard to say right now, but with sufficient sensor data, we may be able to predict lightning strikes within about 10 minutes of them happening and within around 2 kilometers of where they happen. I’m excited to be part of this ongoing research.”
        See also “Conceptual model can explain how thunderstorm clouds bunch together” (University of Copenhagen 6/25/19) “Understanding how the weather and climate change is one of the most important challenges in science today. A new theoretical study from associate professor, Jan Härter, at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, presents a new mechanism for the self-aggregation of storm clouds, a phenomenon, by which storm clouds bunch together in dense clusters.”

  4. Ben says:

    An invisible drizzle of subatomic particles has shown that thunderstorms may store up much higher electric voltages than we thought.
    Using muons, heavier relatives of electrons that constantly rain down on Earth’s surface, scientists probed the insides of a storm in southern India in December 2014. The cloud’s electric potential — the amount of work necessary to move an electron from one part of the cloud to another — reached 1.3 billion volts, the researchers report in a study accepted in Physical Review Letters [link]. That’s 10 times the largest voltage previously found by using balloons to make similar measurements.

  5. Langmuir says:

    In contrast to popular belief, lightning often does strike twice, but the reason why a lightning channel is ‘reused’ has remained a mystery. Now, an international research team led by the University of Groningen has used the LOFAR radio telescope to study the development of lightning flashes in unprecedented detail. Their work reveals that the negative charges inside a thundercloud are not discharged all in a single flash, but are in part stored alongside the leader channel at Interruptions. This occurs inside structures which the researchers have called needles. Through these needles, a negative charge may cause a repeated discharge to the ground. The results were published on 18 April in the science journal Nature. (includes 2videos of the development of lightning in slow motion)

  6. Mike says:

    Using AI to predict where and when lightning will strike (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne 11/8/19)
    At EPFL’s School of Engineering, researchers in the Electromagnetic Compatibility Laboratory have developed a simple and inexpensive system that can predict when lightning will strike to the nearest 10 to 30 minutes, within a 30-kilometer radius. The system uses a combination of standard meteorological data and artificial intelligence. The research paper has been published in Climate and Atmospheric Science, a Nature partner journal. The researchers are now planning to use their technology in the European Laser Lightning Rod project (see insert).
    Nature, Climate and Atmospheric Science:”Nowcasting lightning occurrence from commonly available meteorological parameters using machine learning techniques”

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