Have Lightning Strikes Over the Years Risen?
The number of lightning strikes over the years in the country has risen sharply. As per the studies conducted by the non-profit Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council, India recorded more than 18 million lightning strikes between April 2020 and March 2021. A report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down to Earth in the year 2021, found that the country witnessed over 18 million lightning strikes between April 2020 and March 2021, a 34% rise as compared to the same period in the previous year. Satellite data gathered by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology for the period 1995 to 2014 also confirmed the same.
According to a report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2015, around 2,500 people die due to lightning strikes in India every year. As per the latest NCRB data in the year 2021, lightning strikes have caused an estimated total of 2,880 deaths in the country.
Scientists from the Banaras Hindu University analyzed instances of lightning strikes between 1998 and 2013 and concluded that Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Orissa are the most vulnerable states in the country as the number of deaths caused by lightning in a year 313, 281 and 255 deaths, respectively. They also concluded that parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are very vulnerable to lightning strikes.
Why Has the Frequency of Lightning Strikes Increased?
Is Climate Change to Blame?
Many studies have shown that climate change is a major contributor to the increase in lightning strike frequencies.
A study from 2014 predicted that global warming would cause an increase in lightning strikes in the US. This is due to the connection between climate and the meteorological phenomenon of lightning. The warming of land masses can lead to changes in temperature and moisture, which can then affect the stability of the atmosphere and lead to the formation of thunderstorms.
According to a recent study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, lightning strikes over the Indian subcontinent are anticipated to become more frequent and intense as the world warms as a result of human activities like the burning of fossil fuels. The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology also discovered an increase in lighting flash density, which is a measure of the frequency of lightning strikes due to an increase in the concentration of aerosols and carbon dioxide, between 2009 and 2011.
Experts such as Sanjay Srivastava, chairman of the Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council, have also stated that deforestation, depletion of water bodies and pollution contribute majorly to climate change and in turn, have caused an increase in lightning.
The India Meteorological Department started providing lightning forecasts in 2019 in response to the rise in lightning strikes in the nation. Although the early warning system has improved, the Annual Lightning Report 2021 observed that there is a “lack of process and method for last mile public notification and interventions”. More study on lightning and climate is also required, it was said.
The research states that each state needs to have a unique lightning risk management approach that takes into account the seasonality, severity, and frequency of lightning.
According to it, lightning micro zonation within states can contribute to reducing the risks brought on by strikes. In a short period of time, states like Odisha and Andhra Pradesh can reduce mortality by roughly 70%, according to the report’s state risk management analysis.
The National Disaster Management Authority has also established a protocol for early warning dissemination of thunderstorms and lightning in July 2021. This protocol also outlines the ideal requirements of such a system, including a way to communicate this information below the district level.
Who Are the Most Affected from lightning strikes?
According to studies conducted by the Lightning Resilient India Campaign, the majority of India’s lighting victims are villagers and tribespeople who farm, fish and forage for a living. These groups are most vulnerable to falling victim to lightning strikes because they tend to take shelter under tall trees which attract the incoming lightning. The Lightning Resilient India Campaign has helped reduce the number of lightning strike victims by 60% by increasing community awareness among those who are prone to get affected.
“But there’s a lack of community-driven safety awareness campaigns by governments to reach the vulnerable people at hotspots like farms, jungles, sea, coasts, ponds, lakes and rivers,” says Col Sanjay Srivastava, convener of the campaign.
How Do People Save Themselves?
Villagers took matters into their own hands to combat the issue. They have helped raise awareness and have successfully managed to cut down on deaths caused by lightning coming up with cheap, yet effective methods. Villagers in affected states have come up with homegrown lightning conductors which direct the electrical charge to the earth.
Villagers make use of cheap and readily available items to create these conductors. These conductors commonly comprise second-hand bicycle wheel rims, bamboo and metallic wires. The rims are fixed on the top of bamboo poles – which are sometimes up to 30 ft high and act as the lightning rod – which are then strapped to buildings, usually community centres and local schools, where the probability of strikes taking place and the number of possible victims are higher. A thick metal pipe or wire runs down the length of bamboo making sure that the electricity generated will pass to the earth without causing any harm.