US Lightning Strikes Expected To Increase 50 Percent By 2100

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Climate models are anticipating that warming temperatures and increased atmospheric water vapor will cause the number of lightning strikes experienced throughout the US to increase by 50 percent, according to new research published Friday in the journal Science.
In the paper, University of California, Berkeley, climate scientist David Romps and his colleagues analyzed predictions of precipitation and cloud buoyancy in 11 different climate models, and came to the conclusion that the frequency of electrical discharges to the ground will likely increase due to climate change during this century.

“With warming, thunderstorms become more explosive,” Romps, an assistant professor of earth and planetary science as well as a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), said in a statement. “This has to do with water vapor, which is the fuel for explosive deep convection in the atmosphere.”
“Warming causes there to be more water vapor in the atmosphere, and if you have more fuel lying around, when you get ignition, it can go big time,” he added. “Lightning is caused by charge separation within clouds, and to maximize charge separation, you have to loft more water vapor and heavy ice particles into the atmosphere. We already know that the faster the updrafts, the more lightning, and the more precipitation, the more lightning.”
Romps and colleagues from the Berkeley Lab and the State University of New York at Albany looked at a number of different factors, including precipitation levels, cloud buoyancy and warming air, said Reuters reporter Will Dunham. They concluded that there was a seven percent increase in the number of lightning strikes with each degree that the average global temperature increases in Fahrenheit (12 percent for each degree of increase in Celsius) by 2100.

Since scientists are anticipating that the average global temperature will increase by approximately seven degrees Fahrenheit (four degrees Celsius) by the end of the century, that translates into an approximately 50 percent increase in the number of lightning strikes, noted Associated Press Science Writer Seth Borenstein – or, as Romps put it, by the year 2100, the US will experience three lightning strikes for every two that currently occur.
The impact of the increased frequency of lightning strikes will have a tremendous impact on America, explained Jane J. Lee of National Geographic. It will likely result in a greater number of wildfires, and could also increase the amount of ozone in our atmosphere. On the positive side, however, Lee said that since lighting produces nitrogen oxides, a compound that indirectly reduces methane levels, more lighting will mean less of that greenhouse gas.
A scientist at the UK Met Office told BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill that while it was important to understand future lightning patterns, that there will still uncertain parts of the model used by Romps’ team that required further testing. The Met Office also told Gill that the application of the predictions to other parts of the world would be limited due to varying rainfall patterns.
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