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Expect more lightning strikes with rising temperatures, warn experts

Published:Tuesday | October 8, 2019 | 12:06 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Director of the Meteorological Service of Jamaica, Evan Thompson, has said there are no instruments locally to record lightning activity but from anecdotal evidence, there has been more lightning in recent weeks.

“Climate change suggests that we will have more intense storms, and this means thunderstorm activity. The development of thunderstorm activity is expected to be more intense – and so you would get heavier downpours of rain – anything related to thunderstorms, which could include hail or lightning storms,” Thompson explained.

Dr André Coy, lecturer in the Department of Physics at The University of the West Indies, Mona, said that without analysis of the strike rates, lightning activity cannot be thoroughly assessed.

Coy added that several studies in the United States and Europe show potential increases in lightning activity of between five and 16 per cent for every 1° Celsius rise in average atmospheric temperature.

“While we cannot say that the recent events are directly related to climate change, there is a strong indication that lightning strike rates in Jamaica will increase as global temperatures continue to rise,” he said.

The same predictors have been found in a study by Dr Cherri-Ann Farquharson to be related to lightning occurrence in the island.

Farquharson highlighted that with the predicted increase in lightning activity comes an elevated risk of related fires.

“Studies done by the Climate Studies Group Mona have shown that as global temperatures rise, the rainfall projections for Jamaica show a drying trend, particularly in our late wet season with a minimal increase in rainfall during the dry season but not enough to offset the drying in the wet season. This overall drying trend increases the risk of fires – both man-made and lightning-ignited,” the assistant lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering said.

Lightning safety precautions:

1.“When thunder roars, go indoors!” Dark overhead clouds and thunder are signs of approaching lightning activity;

2. Do not stay on elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks;

3. Never lie flat on the ground;

4. Never shelter under an isolated tree;

5. Avoid being in or near bodies of water such as beaches, swimming pools or ponds;

6. Avoid contact with metal;

7. Keep in mind that contrary to the common phrase which says that lightning never strikes the same place twice, lightning can and likely will strike the same place more than once, especially if conditions in that place remain favourable to lightning activity.