Every year, lightning caused fires burn an average of over 250,000 acres in the Southern US. Climate Scientists studying atmospheric chemistry recently released a study in Science looking at how increasing temperatures with global climate change will affect the frequency of cloud-to-ground lightning. Hotter temperatures generally lead to increased thunderstorm activity. Results indicate a 50% increase in cloud to ground lightning strikes by 2100.
“All Global Climate Models (GCMs) in our ensemble predict annual mean lightning-strike frequency in the United States to increase, with a mean increase of 12% per °C. The standard deviation of the ensemble’s predictions is 5% per °C; therefore, we can conclude that the rate of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes over the US is likely to increase as a function of global mean temperature at a rate of 12 ± 5% per °C. Overall, the GCMs predict a ∼50% increase in the rate of lightning strikes in the US over the 21st century.”
Currently, the Southern Appalachian region receives 6 to 9 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per square mile every year (according to the National Lightning Detection Network). By 2100, that number is expected to increase to 9 to 13.5 lightning strikes per square mile every year.
Even though 90% of wildfires are human caused, this increase in lightning frequency will inevitably lead to a larger area of land burned in wildfires, highlighting the importance of fuel reducing mitigation methods like controlled burning.
View the article here: Projected increase in lightning strikes in the United States due to global warming