In Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, at least 74 people have been killed in lightning strikes in the past 24 hours. Of these, 11 are visitors who were killed on Sunday when they were struck by lightning at Amer Fort near Jaipur.
The numbers may seem high, but they shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Thunderstorms accompanied by lightning strikes (usually in the pre-monsoon and monsoon months) are the leading cause of death from natural disasters (extreme weather events) in India, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Lightning strikes have killed at least 2,000 people every year in India since 2004, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said in an awareness workshop on lightning strikes last month.
In 2019 there were 2,876 deaths from lightning strikes, compared with less than 1,500 the annual average between 1968 and 2004. There was a brief period of three to four years in between when lightning strikes killed more than 1,500 people, but the larger trend continued.
The Interior Ministry’s Disaster Management Department has yet to update the data on lightning deaths for 2020.
According to an article by the Department of Earth Sciences, Weather and Climate Extremes, published in Elsevier magazine, entitled “An Assessment of Long-Term Changes in Mortality from Extreme Weather Events in India: A Study of 50 Years of Data, 1970-2019”. , The death rate from tropical cyclones fell 94% over a period of 20 years, while those from heat waves and lightning rose by 62.2% and 52.8%, respectively.
The monsoon break created the conditions for strikes
Usually, lightning strikes are very common during the pre-monsoon season and when the monsoons begin over Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and neighboring states. This is the time when the humidity rises and the surface temperature is high, which creates favorable conditions for thunderclouds to develop.
That year, however, there were massive lightning strikes and related casualties in mid-July, mainly due to the long monsoon “break” when surface temperatures were very high with no rain.
âThe monsoons took about a 10-day break. During this time, there was significant surface heating. With the revival of the monsoons, humidity has also increased. This is the most favorable prerequisite for the development of storm clouds and collisions of ice particles that lead to charging and lightning strikes, âsaid SD Pawar, project leader, Thunderstorm Dynamics, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune. Storm clouds require heat and moisture to form. They also need to be deep, about nine to 10 kilometers, for ice particles to collide. And that’s exactly what is happening now.
Why are we seeing an increase in recent years?
According to Pawar, the increase in lightning strikes can certainly be linked to the climate crisis.
âBoth surface temperature and humidity have risen significantly in recent years. Urbanization, which leads to the loss of tree cover, also contributes to the rise in surface temperature. We think the two were the main contributors to the surge in lightning incidence. The increase in deaths may be due to the fact that more people have been outdoors in recent years and may have been exposed to lightning, âhe said.
Lightning mortality will only increase in the years to come. “Climate projections suggest that temperature and humidity will continue to increase in the future,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM).
How can deaths be prevented?
IMD’s Damini app offers area-specific lightning warnings, but lightning is an extremely localized phenomenon and the warnings often don’t make it to the last mile. However, in the event of a lightning strike, there are certain things you can do to save your life, such as going to a safe building, but avoiding metal structures and seeking shelter in low-lying areas that will not be flooded. Crouching arms and legs together to achieve a smaller target and staying away from utility lines (phones, electricity, etc.), as well as metal fences, trees (they conduct electricity), and hills are some other ways to protect yourself during such a fall Event.