Lightning is fascinating but it’s also destructive and deadly. Scientists tell us that the earth experiences about 25 million lightning strikes per year. But what if that number of strikes were to significantly increase, or even double in the near future? Where will that leave vulnerable infrastructure in terms of expensive power losses, unscheduled down time and lost productivity due to increased surge incidents, or worse yet, full-scale fire losses due to lightning?
According to a study published in the journal ScienceDaily, we could expect to see a “12% increase in lightning” activity associated with forecasts of temperature warming, with the U.S. experiencing as much as a “50% increase in strikes by the turn of the century.”
“We think that by having warmer oceans and warmer temperature in general, we’re going to see higher evaporation and heat transfer, and thus higher frequency of convective storms that in turn results in more lighting-ignited fires,” said Andres Holtz, geography professor at PSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-lead author of the journal study. “And with a climate mode such as SAM (Southern Annular Mode), stuck in its positive, fire prone phase that seems to amplify climate change, it doesn’t look good,” added Holtz.
While Holtz cautions the findings don’t suggest that there will be increases in lightning fires everywhere, they do suggest increased activity can be expected in many regions–including areas that have historically seen less activity due to overly humid or wet conditions.
"These trends are expected worldwide, not just in the Southern Hemisphere,” explained Holtz.
If lightning becomes more frequent, the likeliness of being affected by the weather peril that already affects the most people, most of the time in the most places of the U.S., will also increase. So understanding the threat and preparing people, property and places for the increased risk is critical. Three measures that safety stakeholders can support now to help prepare tomorrow’s communities for lightning, are:
1. Insurance incentives for safety standard-compliant lightning protection systems (LPS).
2. Increased education and promotion of safety standard-compliant LPS--specifically NFPA 780.
3. Expanded risk assessment measures to gauge the lightning hazard in the building development process.
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