Climate Change Could Mean a Lot More Lightning Strikes 

By Sarah Zhang on at

Add lightning to the list of dangers climate change will likely magnify. A new study projects that a warmer climate could mean 50 per cent more lightning strikes in the U.S. in the coming decades.

A warmer sky contains more energy, so it makes a lot of sense that energy would then be violently discharged as more lightning. What's surprising, though, is that it's actually quite easy to predict when and where lightning will strike. At the heart of the study published today in Science is a startlingly simple equation that relates storm energy and precipitation to lightning strikes.

After a team led by David Romps of the UC Berkeley crunched the numbers, they found that lightning strikes would increase in frequency by 12 per cent for every degree Celsius rise in temperature. At our current rate of global warming, that's a 50 per cent increase by the end of the 21st century.

Getting struck by lightning is, as conventional wisdom hold, rare, and it'll be rare even with the increase. The real danger here is lightning strikes that spark wildfires, particularly in the American West. We already know that a small rise in global average temperature can mean all sorts of extreme weather depending on where you are, including hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and, now, lightning strikes, too. [Science via Washington Post]

Top image: Kucher Serhii/shutterstock