Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lightnings may increase by 12% per 1 °C of warming

David M. Romps, Jacob T. Seeley (Berkeley), David Vollaro, and John Molinari (Albany) published a report in Nature whose title reads
Projected increase in lightning strikes in the United States due to global warming
that was quoted in hundreds of media outlets.

Let me tell you: I find this number conceivable.

They decided that the lightning frequency is approximately equal to the product of the precipitation rate and a potential energy (CAPE). It probably isn't exact but it's probably good enough for some estimates. Combined with some empirical data, 1 °C of warming adds 12% to the warming strikes. When combined with some nonsensically overrated projections about the rise of the mean temperature in the rest of the century, they may get a 50% increase of lightnings.

More realistically, the Earth may experience at most something like additional 0.8 °C of warming by 2100 so the increase of the lightnings will be about 10%.

It's interesting to see how many people are killed (click) by lightnings in the U.S. (the same country that the paper analyzes). Since the beginning of 2014, there have been 25 casualties. So in a climate warmer by 1 °C, there would be about 2 more deaths in the U.S. each year – unless something else changes, of course.

This should be compared with the thousands that freeze to death and whose lives could be saved if there's some warming. Obviously, lightnings are negligible relatively to those. But despite the small numbers, lightnings are interesting because it's a rare example of a process by which "warming may indirectly kill people".

You may see that only 1/5 of the 2014 fatalities are women (pink color). This percentage actually isn't true just in this year – you find a similar percentage of 80% of men in previous years, too. Why is that? Is Nature misandrist or feminist? Or do penises act as lightning rods? Well, both of these explanations are unikely.

It's more likely that the explanation hides in the activities of the victims. Women are probably less likely to be closing car windows on a construction site, roofing car dealerships and other things, fishing, riding motorcycles, fixing windshield wipers, swimming, building tree house, doing a maintenance work, sheltering in storm, and (to explain some previous years) playing golf. So even though women are competitive in horseback riding, picking blueberries, walking, perhaps swimming, trimming hedges, the "men's excess" can't be eliminated.

Incidentally, you could argue that this ratio of deaths – four-to-one "favoring" men – roughly represents the ratio how much the two sexes work, especially when it comes to risky jobs (although you shouldn't forget that they're less likely in doing various types of work at home). So the "apparent meritocratic gender gap" is actually larger than the 1.5-to-1 gap in their average salaries.

But back to the lightnings. It's likely that the lightning rate increases with the temperature and is of order 100% already for temperature changes comparable to 10 °C. We could find some alternative methods to get this dependence from looking at the weather in different seasons – or different climatic zones – and do some regression. I am convinced that the dependence would be "comparable".

Lightnings are examples of phenomena where the warming matters; and where there are some fatal consequences, too. In principle, all the necessary conditions are fulfilled for the climate change hysteria to be relevant. But when we look at the problem quantitatively, we see that the casualties are tiny and negligible in comparison with the casualties of freezing that may be avoided with a degree of warming.


  1. I read a Los Angeles Times article on it today, and it addressed the problem of brush/forest fires. If I recall correctly, there was no mention of people being struck by lightning. I imagine that other media published similar things.

    I once saw lightning strike hit a metal fence post at the top of a hill that's behind my house. There were horses up there. After the strike, four horses went to the post and spent a few minutes examining it closely. Horse scientists, I guess.

  2. Haha, horse scientists or maybe just electrically charged horses attracted to the opposite charge. ;-)

  3. This danger to forests can't be allowed to continue. Something must be done!

    Quick! We gotta ...


    Note bottom comment.

    If the following is the result of Klimate Kaos, everybody will be wanting their own Lichtenberg figures. Either that, or a Darwin Award,

  5. Hmmm, Great!--I love dramatic lightning storms...the ozone generated will help to patch the ozone hole, and the ozone and negative ions act on our brains to produce a nice euphoric feeling. Now, if we could only influence whom the lightning will strike---that would be gravy. :)

  6. "I once saw lightning strike a metal fence post at the top of a hill behind my house..."

    That would explain your name "Smoking Frog"

    "Horse scientists, I guess."--I just hope they weren't wearing blankets with naked mares on them...

  7. As for the gender ratio when it comes to work: maybe, if you stick to rural areas, trucks and the kitchen. But during the great US economic recovery since 2009 most jobs created were in the service sector. According to some, we hired way more waitresses and bartenders than workers in manufacturing. Bottom line, I would expect that employed women outnumber men and I've read some stats that imply so, but can't find the link at the moment.

  8. You must be right - waitresses are also hard-working and mostly women. They're just safer against lightning than golf players, for example. ;-)

  9. As long as humans aren't consumed, forest fires are actually beneficial to the ecosystem---
    --just a quick google search will reveal many articles.

    OT. I am still shaking my head about the Matt Taylor brouhaha. It is hard to believe and pathetic that humans have evolved into such caviling toxic nit-pickers who are allowed (and encouraged) to cause pain and suffering to the decent and interesting. And, of course, Sean Carrol joins in...he seems to be in the running for the most politically correct human on earth---the Nobel Prize must be waiting...

  10. Can't this lightning be harnessed to produce energy and displace the fossil fuels that create the global warming?

  11. A charger is a horse! Just to make sure you know how extra word-wise witty you were!😉😊

  12. Speaking of gender ratios and death, in the US the occupational fatality ratio for men to women is about 13.6 to 1:

    The idea that warming may increase thunderstorm activity doesn't seem implausible to me. The world distribution looks something like this:

    That being said, in principle we should be able to measure lightning frequency using satellites and test to see what the real magnitude of any such dependency is.

    One should also keep in mind that any such connection is likely linked to various feedback mechanisms, since such systems play a keep part in the planet's energy balance, especially in the tropics, through the associated cloud systems.

  13. Smoking Frog was a 4th-century Mayan warlord. Actually his name was "Born of Fire," but scholars used to call him "Smoking Frog," either because they didn't understand the glyphs very well, or as a joke, or both. His name was written as two glyphs, an iguana looking upward, and a set of wavy lines. Supposedly the scholars mistook the iguana for a frog, and didn't know it meant "born," and they misread the wavy lines as "smoke," whereas actually it means "fire."

    No, the horses weren't wearing pictures of naked mares. They're only at the Ben Franklin stage of development.

  14. "Electrically charged horses" - you're such a reductionist! :-)

    As to the upper limit, yes, but where is it?

    Do alarmists pay for new ideas? I'm thinking of advising them to say there's a tipping point after which lightning electrocutes the entire human race.

  15. The article was pretty calm. It only said something about an increase of the cost of fire-fighting.

  16. It's just an old joke, SF. I'll tidy it up to make it clearer.

  17. Hmmm, SF, my take on your name was my attempt at a joke :) You explained the supposed origin of your nick to me once before.
    Also, those horses may have been further evolved than you knew---Houyhnhnms are everywhere...

  18. You mean like a balloon tethered with electric cable?
    I think most utility is based on consistently available power. Lightning being transitory. Bang, then it's gone. Makes it useless.

  19. The cost of lighting is not as negligable as you make it sound, it also causes (bush)fires leading to sometimes large personal and material losses. But I agree that compared to the 'cost of cold' it is not significant.

  20. don't forget the sun: