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article imageU.S. lightning strikes to increase 50 percent as planet heats up

By Megan Hamilton     Nov 14, 2014 in Science
As man-made global warming continues to make the earth a warmer and wetter place, lightning strikes will also increase — by as much as 50 percent by the end of this century, scientists say in a new study.
Many of us already know that warmer and wetter conditions make excellent promoters of thunderstorms, but in the study the scientists decided to focus on the lightning strikes themselves, The Daily Mail reports.
The researchers calculated how frequent lightning flashes become as air warms, clouds suck up more energy from water vapor and rainfall intensifies.
The findings:
The scientists concluded that for each degree Fahrenheit that the planet warms in the future, lightning strikes will go up by almost seven percent, or 12 percent for each degree Celsius, the Mail reports.
Scientists say that the world may heat up as much as 7 degrees warmer (4 degrees Celsius) by century's end, and that's based on current carbon dioxide emission trends. That comes to a 50 percent increase in lightning strikes, said David Romps, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California Berkeley. Romps led the study, the Mail reports.
"When you used to have two lightning strikes, now you'll have three," he said. "It's a substantial increase."
Basing their calculations on 2011 weather data from across the U.S., the researchers presented their results in a paper released on Thursday by the journal Science.
Warmer air is the key force behind all of this. The more the air warms, the more water vapor it holds. And water vapor is fuel for thunderstorms, and that sparks more lightning. Storms gain a lot of energy from vapor, and that's the biggest driver in increasing lightning strikes in the future, Romps said.
Harold Brooks, a severe storm meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the Mail that the study makes sense and is a marked advance of previous studies.
So what's the big take away from all this?
Think wildfires. In some places lightning strikes are a major cause of wildfires, Mother Jones reports. During some parts of the year wildfires are the rule of the day in California. In one 24-hour period in August, lightning in Northern California sparked 24 wildfires.
"As far as impacts go, one of the things that comes to mind first is wildfire," Romps said in an interview with Mashable.
Large fires are already galloping across the West, especially since the region is heating up and rain is becoming more variable. This means there will be a marked increase in large fires, known as "megafires," in the next few decades.
Lightning is also risky for humans. On average at least 50 people are killed in the U.S. each year, Mashable reports. With a potential of strikes that may be as many as 30 million annually, it's inevitable that the risk fatalities will increase.
In the U.S. some Southern states already deal with massive thunderstorms, The Weather Channel reports.
The two states that receive the most strikes?
• Louisiana. This state receives an intimidating 909,919 strikes per year, with an average of 19.7 strikes per square mile. Seven people have been killed by lightning since 2006.
• Florida. 1,414,284 strikes are reported per year, with an average of 24.7 strikes per square mile. Since 2006, 32 people have been killed. Between 1959-2011 463 deaths were reported, the highest number of any state, The Weather Channel reports.
The study gives us clues about what to expect in regards to this dangerous weather, and with each and every lightning strike it doesn't look encouraging.
More about Lightning strikes to increase by 50 percent, US, planet heats up, Global warming, fahrenheit
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