- Warming means more water vapor in the air, says UC-Berkeley climate scientist
- Study using 11 climate models is reported in the latest issue of the journal Science
- Scientist David Romps: Lightning strikes will be 50% more common by century's end
- More lightning striking the ground means more people hit, more wildfires, he says
Thanks to climate change, you'll be more likely to get struck by lightning as the years pass, scientists say. Make that 50% more likely for those who are around at the end of the century.
"With warming, thunderstorms become more explosive," says University of California Berkeley climate scientist David Romps.
He and his colleagues studied 11 climate models to arrive at their calculations, which they published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
The logic is simple. More warmth equals more water vapor in the air, which is the fuel for thunderstorms. That equals more lightning and more of it zapping the ground. And people standing on it.
The current odds of becoming a human lightning rod in one's lifetime come in at around 1 in 12,000, the National Weather Service roughly estimates. If Romps and his colleague are right, those odds would slim to 1 in 8,000 by the year 2100.
Certainly, many people are satisfied to live with that level of personal risk. But Romps offers for consideration that lightning strikes also spark half of all wildfires. And fires caused by lightning are harder to put out, he says.
While working up the long-term predictions, Romps and his colleagues came upon a useful way of predicting the frequency of lightning strikes in the here and now.
They found they could determine fluctuations in that frequency if they knew the amount of precipitation falling and the speed and occurrence of "convective clouds" rising high into the atmosphere.
Then they studied the 11 models on projected global temperature increases to predict how much these two factors should surge in the distant future, resulting in more lightning strikes if carbon dioxide emissions continue on their current path.