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.
29 thoughts on “Climate change includes increasing lightning strikes”
…even without an appreciable rise in precipitation, the occurrence of more energetic and concentrated thunder storms in the southwestern U.S. will also result in larger and more destructive localized flooding. http://www.southwestclimatechange.org/feature-articles/monsoon-modeling
“World thunderstorm ‘map’ key to assessing climate change” http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-02/afot-wt020915.php
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. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/In-Cuba-Lightning-Kills-More-People-Than-Guns-20160618-0027.html 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.
“Lightning strike kills 323 reindeer in Norway : Officials say the animals could have died because they huddled together ‘out of fear'” http://www.thelocal.no/20160829/323-reindeer-killed-by-lightning-in-norway
“At least 4 dead, hundreds sickened in Australia asthma attacks triggered by thunderstorm” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/11/23/a-severe-thunderstorm-triggered-asthma-attacks-in-melbourne-leaving-at-least-4-australians-dead/
“…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.”
“This ‘ring of fire’ thunderstorm is both stunning and fearsome” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2017/06/16/this-ring-of-fire-thunderstorm-is-both-stunning-and-fearsome/ Additional photos @ https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2016/06/24/pic-of-the-week-ring-of-fire-thunderstorms-put-on-an-astonishing-light-show/
(11/25/17): “Lightning strikes leave behind a radioactive cloud : Gamma rays produced by lightning hit atomic nuclei, transforming them.” https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/11/lightning-strikes-leave-behind-a-radioactive-cloud/
(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.” https://arstechnica.com/science/2011/01/weather-so-severe-it-generates-antimatter/
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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bremsstrahlung
“…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) https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-06/uoc-cmc062519.php “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.”
Researchers using records from the 1700s discover the sun’s rotational cycles and variations of solar activity influence terrestrial climate and lightning activity. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-07/rooi-hdt071718.php
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. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/muons-reveal-voltages-inside-thunderstorm
“Thunderstorm with eye-popping 720GJ of energy : Measured muon flux indicates thunderstorm reached a potential of 1.4GV.” (1.4 billion volts) https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/03/thunderstorm-with-eye-popping-720gj-of-energy/
See also https://physics.aps.org/articles/v12/29
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. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-04/uog-wlo041619.php (includes 2videos of the development of lightning in slow motion)
Using AI to predict where and when lightning will strike (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne 11/8/19) https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-11/epfd-uat110619.php
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” https://www.nature.com/articles/s41612-019-0098-0
“‘Nonstop continuous lightning’ hits Bay Area, more storms in forecast” https://www.sfgate.com/weather/article/lightning-summer-San-Francisco-Bay-Area-thunder-15487464.php
“Lightning threatens California with rising fire risk, sparks 8 fires in greater Bay Area” https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-08-16/lightning-threatens-california-with-rising-fire-risk-sparks-fire-in-santa-clara-county
“Second day of rolling power outages hits California as heat wave continues : PG&E said about 220,000 customers lost power” https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/08/15/bay-area-faces-another-day-of-searing-heat-after-blackouts/
“…Baghdad hit 125.2 degrees on July 28, blowing past the previous record of 123.8 degrees — which was set here five years ago — and topping 120 degrees for four days in a row. Sitting in one of the fastest warming parts of the globe, the city offers a troubling snapshot of the future that climate change might one day bring other parts of the world. Experts say temperature records like the one seen in Baghdad will continue to be broken as climate change advances.”
“Nearly 11,000 lightning bolts strike California, igniting hundreds of fires in a state facing multiple crises” (8/20/20) https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/20/us/california-lightning-fires/index.html
“Videos show nightmarish Calif. wildfire devastation up close” https://www.sfgate.com/california-wildfires/article/videos-show-nightmarish-bay-area-wildfires-15496602.php
Here’s what 10,800 Bay Area lightning strikes sparking hundreds of wildfires looked like from space : The origin story of California’s latest wildfires https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/08/20/watch-heres-what-10800-bay-area-lightning-strikes-sparking-367-wildfires-looked-like-from-space/
“President Donald Trump on Thursday blamed California for its raging wildfires and threatened to withhold federal money, reprising his attacks from previous rounds of catastrophic blazes.
“I see again the forest fires are starting,” he said. “They’re starting again in California. I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.”
“Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us,” he added.” https://www.politico.com/states/california/story/2020/08/20/trump-blames-california-for-wildfires-tells-state-you-gotta-clean-your-floors-1311059
LNU Lightning Complex Fire: 11 a.m. update | California Wildfires https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suDtLbYpcAE
CAL FIRE provides update on CZU Lightning Complex Fire — WATCH LIVE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QO3lrJtlLQ
An international team of researchers says that small lasers could be used to guide lightning strikes — much like Thor’s legendary hammer Mjölnir. https://futurism.com/the-byte/laser-device-lightning-strike-targets
“It turns out that to deliver particles, you do not need high-intensity lasers, even low intensity like your laser pointer will be already enough,” Andrey Miroshnichenko, a researcher at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia, told Agence France Presse of the work.
See “Laser-guided lightning may help prevent wildfires” https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20201112-laser-guided-lightning-may-help-prevent-wildfires
Nature Communications: “Optical beaming of electrical discharges” https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-19183-0
More lightning in the Arctic is bad news for the planet : Lightning strikes in the far north could double by 2100. https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/04/more-lightning-in-the-arctic-is-bad-news-for-the-planet/
To make thunderstorms you need a lot of heat. When the sun warms up the land, hot air and moisture rise in the atmosphere. Simultaneously, cold air in the system sinks. This creates a swirling mass known as a deep convective cloud, which in turn creates electrical charges that grow into lightning.
That’s normal in the tropics, where there’s plenty of heat to go around, but the Arctic should be cold enough to better resist this large-scale rising of hot air. No longer, apparently. “With surface warming, you will have more energy to push air into the high latitude,” says UC Irvine climate scientist Yang Chen, lead author on a new paper in Nature Climate Change describing the modeling. “And also because the atmosphere is warmer, it can hold more water vapor.”
“Large thunderstorms in the Southern Great Plains of the U.S. are some of the strongest on Earth. In recent years, these storms have increased in frequency and intensity, and new research shows that these shifts are linked to climate variability.” https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-06/tau-mia062221.php
In the study, researchers analyzed oxygen isotopes from 30,000-50,000 year old stalactites from Texas caves to understand trends in past thunderstorms and their durations, using radar-based calibration for the region’s rainfall isotopes. They discovered that when storm regimes shift from weakly to strongly organized on millennial timescales, they coincide with well-known, global abrupt climate shifts during the last glacial period, which occurred between about 120,000 and 11,500 years ago.
“Abrupt Southern Great Plains thunderstorm shifts linked to glacial climate variability” https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-021-00729-w
Climate crisis triggers spike in lightning strike deaths in India : About 2,500 people die in lightning strikes in India each year, government data shows, compared with just 45 in the US. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/3/climate-change-lightning-strikes-deaths-india-weather-monsoons
Lightning is also becoming more frequent, with nearly 19 million recorded strikes in the 12 months to March – up by a third from the previous year.
The problem is worldwide, with research this year forecasting a possible doubling of the average number of lightning strikes inside the Arctic Circle over this century.
This could spark widespread tundra fires and trigger enormous amounts of carbon stored within the permafrost escaping into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.
Evidence suggests lightning strikes are also becoming more common in urban areas – a particular concern in India, where the city population is forecast to rise dramatically in the coming years.
“Really horrifying”: Fire clouds spark 710,117 lightning strikes in western Canada in 15 hours
Storm-producing fire clouds threw out hundreds of thousands of lightning strikes over wildfire-stricken British Columbia and northwestern Alberta provinces in Canada Wednesday and Thursday, bewildering meteorologists. https://twitter.com/i/events/1410706568312614916
7AM MDT, tomorrow morning, 3rd
Over 1,000 lightning strikes occurred overnight in California, igniting new wildfires (includes video) https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/10/weather/california-lightning-wildfires/index.html
“A surprising amount of dry lightning hits California, fueling fire risk : Lightning-caused fires are more prevalent in the northern half of the state, particularly over mountainous terrain” https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2022/08/24/california-lightning-dry-fire-study/
See also “A rare lightning barrage jarred California with 66,000 strikes” (June 23, 2022) https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2022/06/23/lightning-california-strikes-thunderstorm/
7AM MDT, tomorrow morning, 25th
Where lightning struck the least in 2022, and why that was worrisome (Washington Post) https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/01/25/lightning-strikes-florida-texas-2022/
“2022 is still a little bit below normal, but it’s closer to what we would consider an average lightning year,” said Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist at Vaisala, which operates the National Lightning Detection Network in the United States and has collected U.S. lightning data for nearly 40 years. “Having the lightning come back up a little bit closer to normal starts to … get some more precipitation in parts of the country where it’s needed the most.”