The rarity of humans getting struck by lightning has traditionally been a measuring stick used to assuage fears of similarly unlikely disasters: "Don't worry, you're more likely to get struck by lightning than [whatever you're worried about]." Global climate change, however, may mean we have to rethink those words of comfort, with a new estimate suggesting that lightning strikes will increase by 50% over the next century.
As if it weren't bad enough that we'll be either covered in water or facing severe droughts, scientists at UC Berkeley analyzed 11 different climate prediction models to determine that a changing atmosphere will increase the intensity of thunderstorms, causing more lightning strikes. Scary stuff!
Now, this doesn't mean that people will be dropping like flies due to lightning, but those powerful electronic discharges can have some other nasty effects. Science Daily explains:
More lightning strikes mean more human injuries; estimates of people struck each year range from the hundreds to nearly a thousand, with scores of deaths. But another significant impact of increased lightning strikes would be more wildfires, since half of all fires — and often the hardest to fight — are ignited by lightning, Romps said. More lightning also would likely generate more nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere, which exert a strong control on atmospheric chemistry.
In other words, more lightning isn't just bad news because more people will be struck by it (though that's pretty bad news, too).
This is just another piece in the puzzle of climate change, and the hope is that the predictions and models will eventually become scary — and real — enough to produce some actual action on humans' part. We're slowly and surely getting closer, with the USA and China coming to a historic agreement to reduce carbon emissions, but there's still plenty more to be done.
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