Lightning patterns are changing with global warming

New research has shown that climate change could alter lightning patterns across Europe.

This could lead to more lightning over mountains and northern Europe and less lightning over central Europe.

The study by Newcastle University and the Met Office, published in the journal Environmental Research Lettersfinds that there could be a picture of changing weather conditions, including:

  • More frequent thunderstorms with more energy, but locally less lightning mainly due to less ice in clouds and frozen particles in thunderclouds, with warming
  • More lightning at high altitudes, including over the Alps
  • Less lightning over central European lowlands and over the sea – subject to less certain circulation changes

The researchers found that these changes could lead to an increased risk of wildfires in the mountains and northern Europe, but as the authors explain, it’s not all bad news.

The study’s lead author, Dr Abdullah Kahraman, Senior Researcher in Severe Weather and Climate Change, School of Engineering, University of Newcastle and Visiting Fellow – Understanding Regional Climate Change (URCC), Met Office Hadley Center, said: “While more frequent lightning strikes over mountains and in northern Europe could spark more wildfires in upper-level forests, we’re going to see relatively less lightning risk in more populated areas of Europe. Central Europe. “

These are the latest Met Office climate simulations with the highest local detail in meteorological and topographical features out to 2km, which, unlike previous studies, allows the simulation of individual thunderstorms and their crucial processes driving the lightning across Europe. This is a possible realization of an unmitigated future climate (RCP8.5 scenario), and uncertainties exist especially in terms of circulation changes.

Professor Lizzie Kendon, Met Office Science Fellow and co-author of the paper, said that “these new, very high resolution climate projections, which have a resolution comparable to that of weather forecasting models, provide new insights into the future changes in convective storms”. and their associated hazards – such as heavy downpours, lightning, hail and gusty winds. The lightning changes in this study are in contrast to previous studies. This shows us that representing fundamental physical processes within the storms themselves is important and can lead to future changes that are even opposite in sign.”

The researchers say these findings underscore the need to reassess the risk of lightning strikes to forest fires, properties and human life across Europe.

Study co-author Professor Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts at Newcastle University’s School of Engineering, added: “This is just bad news for infrastructure. national critics in Northern Europe, after the damning report “Preparing for the coming storms? Critical National Infrastructure in the Age of Climate Change” by the Joint National Security Strategy Committee last week. Our paper has highlighted new, previously unknown risks from increased lightning strikes that will require increased investment in climate adaptation measures Further analysis is needed on the potential impact of these increases in lightning on energy and other critical infrastructure systems to enable the production of policies and measures locally and sectorally relevant for adaptation planning.

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Materials provided by Newcastle University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Teresa H. Sadler