Lightning strikes jump by 34%; experts point to climate change
India saw 18.5 million lightning strikes between April 2020 and March 2021, marking a significant jump of 34% from the 13.8 million strikes that occurred over the corresponding period in the previous year. This data has been released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and the Down to Earth magazine. Experts have linked the worrying surge to unchecked urbanization and climate change.
A total of 1,697 people were killed after being struck by lightning strikes during the said period. States and union territories such as West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Puducherry have witnessed a sudden surge in lightning incidents in recent months. Of them, Punjab saw the biggest spurt of 331% in such incidents.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has labeled thunderstorms accompanied by lightning strikes as the single-largest killers among natural disasters in India. In fact, lightning strikes have been killing 2,000 people, on an average, every year, since 2004, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). Prior to 2004, less than 1,500 such deaths were reported annually.
Experts have warned that the significant increase in lightning incidents is due to climate change. "There is growing scientific evidence that climate change may be sparking more lightning across the world. Rapid urbanization and population growth have guaranteed an intensification of human exposure to lightning hazards," Down To Earth Managing Editor Richard Mahapatra said, according to Hindustan Times.
Growing forest fires around the world have also been blamed for the surge in lightning incidents, studies have revealed. "In May 2021, researchers in Australia linked excess CCN (Cloud Condensation Nuclei) to the increased number of lightning strikes during the 2019-20 Australia forest fires," said Kiran Pandey, the program director of CSE's environmental resources unit.
In 2015, a study by the California University had projected that an increase in the average global temperature by 1º Celsius would raise the frequency of lightning by as much as 12%.
However, India has taken some measures to lower the injuries and fatalities linked to lightning strikes. Lightning forecasts were started by the IMD from April 1, 2019. Further, the Lightning India Resilient Campaign (LRIC), a joint initiative of several government bodies, has set an aim to reduce the number of deaths from lightning strikes to less than 1,200 per year by 2022.
Experts recommend that people find shelter indoors in case of lightning. It is advisable to suspend outdoor activities until at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder. You should call emergency services if needed as it is safe to use mobile phones during lightning. Victims should be moved to a safer location as soon as possible.