Bihar, MP, UP accounted for 60% lightning deaths in 2001-21
Between 2021-2022 and 2022-23 there has been a 34.24 % increase in the overall count of lightning strikes across the country
There is a 40% increase in incident of cloud to ground lightning in India between 2019-20 and 2022-23, a new report on lightning said. According to climate scientists, this steep increase in lightning incidents in the country is the impact of surface warming and resultant convective activity.
Between 2021-2022 and 2022-23 there has been a 34.24 % increase in the overall count of lightning strikes across the country, whereas cloud to ground lightning has recorded an increase of 23.46%, said the Annual Lightning Report by Climate Resilient Observing-Systems Promotion Council based, which is based on data from India Meteorological Department and Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.
Among states, Madhya Pradesh has recorded the highest cloud to ground lightning strikes followed by Maharashtra, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.
Whereas, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, accounted collectively for over 60% of India’s lightning-related fatalities. Based on the fatalities data from 2001 to 2021, 90% of lightning deaths occurred in Central India.
Cloud to ground lightning strikes from the cloud to the ground. CG is a channel of negative charge, called a stepped leader that zigzags downward in a forked pattern. This stepped leader is invisible to the human eye, and shoots to the ground in less time than it takes to blink according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
There is consensus that the rapid increase in lightning strikes is an impact of the climate crisis.
“This is related to the increase in surface air temperatures. With global warming both temperature and moisture levels are increasing. Also, the instability in the lower atmosphere and a parameter called CAPE convective available potential energy (energy available in the atmosphere for convection to occur) which are basic ingredients for severe thunderstorms to develop are increasing. Thus lightning,” explained M Rajeevan, former secretary, ministry of earth sciences.
The annual lightning report was released on August 27 at the annual lightning conference at IMD.
“Sometimes lightning takes place within the cloud and sometimes the lightning strike reaches the ground from the cloud. Most scientific papers indicate that the rise in lightning strikes is directly proportional to global warming. Urban heat islands, concretization, aerosol levels also play a role. In Central India the rise in strikes and fatalities may be because of heating and lack of awareness on preventing lightning deaths. There is a need to raise awareness and knowledge on preventing lightning deaths and once a person is struck by lightning what can be done for immediate medical help. For example, defibrillators have been found to be very useful,” said Col (Retd) Sanjay Srivastava, CROPC and faculty at The Energy and Resources Institute School of Advanced Studies.
Higher exposure due to livelihood, unsafe housing, lack of awareness about the dangers of lightning strikes are the major risk factors, Srivastava said. “There is very little knowledge among common people about a hazard that can kill instantly,” he said.
CROPC is using satellite data, sensor data from IITM and the National Remote Sensing Centre to monitor the number of lightning strikes.
“There are two things. It’s certain that the number of lightning strikes are increasing. One reason is climate change. Due to more heating and moisture availability, there is higher convective activity and hence lightning and thunderstorm incidence is going up. Its also important to note that we have effective monitoring now. The number of sensors has increased,” said DS Pai, senior scientist at IMD.
In India, highest lightning strikes are recorded in April, May, June and July.
According to Global Climate Observing System, lightning can be used as a proxy for monitoring severe convection and precipitation, improving estimates of severe storm development, evolution and intensity, and hence provide early warnings for severe weather phenomena. In addition, lightning itself impacts the global climate by producing nitrogen oxides (NOX), which have a strong influence on ozone formation. In regard to climate monitoring, lightning is thought to be a valuable indicator to track and understand trends and extremes in convective events under climate change.
The number of CG lightning strikes increased from 5886445 in 2021-22 to 7267989 in 2022-23 according to data gathered by CRPOC.
“Of note are instances of exceptionally large lightning flashes. Notably, in April 2020, a lightning flash measuring an astounding 768 kilometres was observed in the United States. Parallel occurrences of significant casualties, such as the tragedy in Bihar on June 25, 2020, underscore the gravity of these large flash incidents. A renewed emphasis on developing satellite-based Global Lightning mappers for the detection of such events, with potential life-saving implications, is warranted. To this end, it is recommended that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) approach the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for collaborative initiatives. ISRO has assured launch of Global Lightning Mapper (GLM) in next phase,” the report states.