Climate crisis could lead to more wildfire-inducing ‘hot lightning’ strikes

The climate crisis is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires around the world, and a new study suggests that it could also lead to more “hot lightning” strikes that ignite these fires.

Lightning cause wildfires

In the study, recently published in the journal Nature Communications, they assessed the types of lightning that cause wildfires and the likelihood that they will increase with global warming.

Overall, the scientists analyzed 5,858 fires ignited by lightning selected based on satellite imagery of US wildfires between 1992 and 2018.

Hot lightning occurs when lightning strikes in a particularly dry environment, such as during a heatwave or drought, and the resulting heat ignites a fire.

The fact that computer simulations showed a higher frequency of hot lightning strikes as the atmosphere warms is consistent with previous research indicating that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are increasing due to the climate crisis.

The projected increase from three to four strikes per second globally is a significant increase that could have serious implications for the risk of wildfires, particularly in areas that are already prone to them.

The finding that all types of lightning strikes could increase by 28% by 2090 underscores the need for continued efforts to address the underlying causes of the climate crisis and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

pose significant risks

As the climate continues to change, we are likely to see more extreme weather events, including more frequent and intense lightning strikes, that pose significant risks to public safety and the environment. It will be important to develop effective strategies for adapting to these changes and mitigating their impact on our communities and ecosystems.

The researchers found that the number of hot lightning strikes could increase by as much as 12% for every degree Celsius of warming.

This increase in hot lightning strikes could have significant implications for wildfire management and public safety. Wildfires caused by lightning strikes can be particularly difficult to predict and control, and hot lightning strikes are even more unpredictable and difficult to manage.

This means that communities in areas prone to wildfires will need to be even more vigilant and prepared for the potential risks of hot lightning.

The study also highlights the need for continued efforts to address the underlying causes of the climate crisis, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in sustainable energy solutions.

Without significant action to address the root causes of climate change, we are likely to see more frequent and intense wildfires, as well as other extreme weather events that threaten public safety and the environment.

41% global increase in LCC lightning strike

The latest analysis recorded a 41 per cent global increase in LCC lightning strikes, also finding that the frequency of such lightning strikes could increase from about three per second to four per second worldwide.

“The increases are greatest in South America, the west coast of North America, Central America, Australia, South and East Asia, and Europe,” the experts said in the study.

However, regional variations were only found in the northern polar forests, they said, adding that these are regions where fire can affect the soil and can also contribute to global warming.

“These results show that lightning schemes, including LCC lightning, are needed to project the occurrence of lightning-triggered wildfires under climate change,” the scientists added.

What is hot lightning?

Hot lightning is a type of lightning that occurs in dry and hot conditions, typically associated with wildfires. Unlike normal lightning, which is generated by the build-up and discharge of static electricity, hot lightning is produced by the intense heating of the air surrounding a fire.

This heating creates a powerful updraft of hot air that can generate its own electrical charge, leading to lightning strikes that can ignite further fires.

With the increasing severity of wildfires due to climate change, scientists are concerned that the frequency of hot lightning events may also increase, further exacerbating the wildfire threat.

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