Global Warming and Lightning Strikes

lightningA 5C rise in global temperature by the year 2100 will result in fewer incidences of lightning strikes according to new research conducted by scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh,Leeds and Lancaster. Up to this date the research done has indicated that lighting strikes would increase. Using different methodology the scientists believe the number of strikes would actually diminish.

A fall in the number of lightning strikes would result in fewer wildfires and damage to infrastructure. It is argued that it will also affect greenhouse gasses.

In 1769 the tower of the Church of the Nazaire in Brescia, Italy was struck by lightning igniting a huge arsenal of gunpowder being kept there. A large part of the city was destroyed and 3,000 people killed.

In 1977 several lightning strikes hit power lines in New York city resulting in blackouts and people trapped in underground trains, elevators and escalators. The power outage lasted for 25 hours causing chaos.


Photo from Rolleston Fire Brigade

Lightning strikes can set off wildfires during long periods of drought and dry weather although it is thought that 84% are caused by human action. Wildfires whipped up by the wind are unpredictable and can spread very quickly. 2017 saw wildfires in  several countries including California, New Zealand, Spain and Portugal which left widespread destruction and many dead.

The research looked at the movement of tiny ice particles within clouds. The electrical charges which build up form as lightning strikes: about 1.4billion annually worldwide.

Full details of the research can be found in Nature Climate Change in a paper by Declan L. Finney, Ruth M. Doherty, Oliver Wild, David S. Stevenson, Ian A. MacKenzie & Alan M. Blyth. It was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.


Reporter: Fiona Grahame


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