By Karin Heineman, (Inside Science TV)
Every day around the world, lightning strikes the ground about 10 times per second. That's nearly one million strikes a day!
In the U.S. there are 20 million strikes on average every year, and now David Romps, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California Berkeley, says we can expect to see that number grow in the coming years.
“What we find by looking in the climate models is that on average they’re predicting a 50 percent increase in the amount of lightning that you get in the United States, during this century, the 21st century," said Romps.
And the cause?
Many scientists point to global warming creating bigger thunderstorms to explain more frequent lightning strikes.
“As we warm the planet, storm energy goes up and that’s what’s driving this increase in lightning," said Romps.
Romps explained that one element that causes thunderstorms to grow and thrive is the presence of water vapor.
“Water vapor is the fuel for thunderstorms, so if we have more of this water vapor lying around because the Earth is warmer, when a storm goes, it’s going to go in a bigger way and more energetic way and that’s going to drive more lightning," said Romps.
The biggest threat from more lightning strikes is to forests. If lightning strikes more often wildfires could happen more frequently. Wildfires spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes, and threatening lives and property.
“Half of the wildfires in this country are started by lightning," Romps said.
Other researchers who monitor this kind of data agree that a 50 percent increase in lightning is possible. Scientists will continue to monitor lightning strikes in the future to check their predictions.
Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV. She has produced over 600 video news segments on science, technology, engineering and math in the past 14 years for Inside Science TV and its predecessor, Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science. Reprinted with permission from Inside Science, an editorially independent news product of the American Institute of Physics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and serving the physical sciences.