Climate change could cause violent thunderstorms

Tel Aviv University research shows that rising temperatures affect lightning patterns.

Though many would welcome a thunderstorm to break the heat wave now being felt across Israel, new Tel Aviv University research shows that come winter we may be reminiscing about the stifling weather.

Prof. Colin Price, Head of the Department of Geophysics, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at TAU, says for every one degree Celsius of warming, there will be approximately a 10 percent increase in lightning activity.

Hot summers could trigger intense lightning storms (Shutterstock).

And this could have negative consequences in the form of flash floods, wild fires, or damage to power lines and other infrastructure, says Price.

In an ongoing project to determine the impact of climate change on the world’s lightning and thunderstorm patterns, he and his colleagues have run computer climate models and studied real-life examples of climate change, such as the El Nino cycle in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, to determine how changing weather conditions impact storms.

“During El Nino years, which occur in the Pacific Ocean or Basin, Southeast Asia gets warmer and drier. There are fewer thunderstorms, but we found fifty percent more lightning activity,” says Prof. Price. Typically, he says,we would expect drier conditions to produce less lightning. However, researchers also found that while there were fewer thunderstorms, the ones that did occur were more intense.

An increase in lightning activity will have particular impact in areas that become warmer and drier as global warming progresses, including the Mediterranean and the Southern United States, according to the 2007 United Nations report on climate change.

The TAU research was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research and Atmospheric Research, and was presented at the International Conference on Lightning Protection.

(Photography: Lightning image via Shutterstock.)

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About Viva Sarah Press

Viva Sarah Press is an associate editor and writer at ISRAEL21c. She has extensive experience in reporting/editing in the print, online and broadcast fields. Her work has been published by international media outlets including Israel Television, CNN, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post and Time Out.