Lightning strikes kill more people in India than cyclones, stated the India Meteorological Department (IMD), warning of more casualties from the natural phenomenon in the years to come.
Every year, about 2,000 people die due to lightning strikes. This has been the trend from the year 2004 and the casualties may increase by 12% with every 1 degree increase in global temperature, warn scientists.
The Earth Networks India Lightning Report of 2019 too had pointed out that lightning kills more people than cyclones in India. As per the report, Jharkhand and Meghalaya are most susceptible to lightning while Odisha has the most lightning activity. West Bengal, on the other hand, has the highest lightning density.
Speaking at an awareness workshop on lightning and thunderstorms, organised by the IMD recently, SD Pawar, project director thunderstorm dynamics, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, said, “Lightning incidents and associated deaths went up by about 40% between 1995 and 2014 while the yearly lightning deaths more than doubled (from 1,000 to 2,500) between 1968 and 2019.”
Pawar drew a direct correlation between lightning cases and climate change. He said global warming has added more moisture to land, which in turn is the cause for lightning and thunderstorms. Pawar’s claims have been substantiated by several researches that point at a direct relationship between a rise in lightning activity and climate change.
The IITM study indicates that dense forest patches report fewer lightning cases when compared to areas where the green cover is thin. “When there is dense tree cover, lightning strikes the tree and dissipates in the ground. But if the number of trees is less, people working outside are more exposed. People working outside, like farmers, generally run or a trees cover. The fact is that trees attract lightning and so one should not take cover under a lone tree when lightning strikes,” said Pawar.
IMD director general M Mohapatra attributed the rise in lightning incidents to gradual changes in the rural lifestyle over the last three decades. He said that people working in agriculture fields are most vulnerable. He also lightning interferes with the electromagnetic field of mobiles, which too could be a reason for more lightning deaths in the last 16 years.
In India, every third death caused due to natural calamities is because of lightning strike. Nearly 42,500 people were killed due to lightning strikes between 2001 and 2018, states the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data. Only 4% of these deaths were in cities while the rest was reported in rural areas of India.
For the period between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, most lightning casualties were reported in Uttar Pradesh (293), followed by Madhya Pradesh (248), Bihar (221), Odisha (200) and Jharkhand (172). However, number of lightning deaths went down by 24% when compared with the 2018 numbers.