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Why lightning still kills so many Indians

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In News: Why lightning still kills so many Indians

  • As per a report published recently, lightning strikes have caused 1,771 deaths in India from April, 2019 to March, 2020.

News Summary: Why lightning still kills so many Indians

  • A report on lightning in India in 2019-2020 was prepared by Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council (CROPC), a non-profit organization.
  • To prepare this report, CROPC worked closely with India Meteorological Department (IMD) along with Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) and India Meteorological Society (IMS) to disseminate early lightning forecasts.
  • CROPC has a MOU with the India Met Department (IMD), Ministry of Earth Science (MoES), Government of India to disseminate early lightning forecasts.
  • To predict lightning strikes and disseminate early information, CROPC uses satellite observations, inputs from ‘network of Doppler and other radars’, ‘lightning detection Sensors’ etc.

Lighting related deaths in India:

  • As per a report published recently, lightning strikes have caused 1,771 deaths in India from April, 2019 to March, 2020.
  • Uttar Pradesh with 293 deaths, Madhya Pradesh 248, Bihar 221, Odisha 200 and Jharkhand 172 deaths together accounted for more than 60% of the numbers.
  • Lightning related deaths in these states amounted to 33 % of total fatalities from all natural disasters during the time period.
  • However, due to the efforts of various stakeholders, the deaths in 2019-20 were lower than 2018-19, when 2,800 deaths occurred due to lightning strikes.
  • Reasons:
    • The reason for death was that people were caught unawares and about 78% deaths took place due to people standing under isolated tall trees.
    • About 22% of the people were struck in the open.

Recommendations: Why lightning still kills so many Indians

  • So far, individual states have been notifying lightning as state specific disaster. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs should consider notifying lightning as a disaster, so that lightning risk management gets required attention in national policy directives and developmental programmes.
  • The NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) has issued comprehensive guidelines for preparations of Lightning action plans to states. However, the large number of fatalities show the implementation also needs a more ‘scientific and focused community centric approach’ as well as convergence of various departments.
  • In order to further reduce deaths, the report suggests that states should aggressively undertake lightning risk management more comprehensively.
  • There is also a need for a National Lightning Resilience Programme.

About: Lightning

What is Lightning?
  • Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere between clouds, the air, or the ground.
  • It is a result of the difference in electrical charge between the top and bottom of a cloud.

How is lightning formed?
  • The lightning-generating clouds are typically about 10-12 km in height, with their base about 1-2 km from the Earth’s surface.
  • The temperatures at the top range from -35°C to -45°C.
  • As water vapour moves upwards in the cloud, it condenses into water due to decreasing temperatures. A huge amount of heat is generated in the process, pushing the water molecules further up.
  • As they move to temperatures below zero, droplets change into small ice crystals. As they continue upwards, they gather mass, until they become so heavy that they start descending.
  • It leads to a system where smaller ice crystals move upwards while larger ones come down.
  • The resulting collisions trigger release of electrons, in a process very similar to the generation of electric sparks.
  • The moving free electrons cause more collisions and more electrons; a chain reaction is formed.
  • The process results in a situation in which the top layer of the cloud gets positively charged while the middle layer is negatively charged.
  • The electrical potential difference between the two layers is huge, of the order of billions of volts.
  • In little time, a huge current, of the order of lakhs to millions of amperes, starts to flow between the layers.
  • The flash of lightning temporarily equalizes the charged regions in the atmosphere until the opposite charges build up again.
  • Lightning can occur between opposite charges within the thunderstorm cloud (intra-cloud lightning) or between opposite charges in the cloud and on the ground (cloud-to-ground lightning).

  • Lightning produces heat, leading to the heating of the air column between the two layers of cloud. It is because of this heat that the air column looks red during lightning.
  • The heated air column expands and produces shock waves that result in thunder sounds.
  • Thousands of thunderstorms occur over India every year.
  • One thunderstorm can involve more than 100 lightning strikes.

How does lightning strike Earth?
  • Earth is a good conductor of electricity and electrically neutral.
  • Being relatively positively charged compared to the middle layer of the cloud, an estimated 20-25 % of the current flow gets directed towards the Earth.
  • It is this current flow that results in damage to life and property.

Why there is greater probability of lightning striking raised objects on the ground, such as trees or buildings.?
  • Air is a bad conductor of electricity, the electrons try to find a better conductor and also the shortest route to the relatively positively charged Earth’s surface.
  • Thus when they are sufficiently near the ground, about 80-100 m from the surface, they even tend to redirect their course to hit the taller objects.

Effect of a lightning strike on living beings:
  • Being struck directly with such a massive electrical jolt causes multiple problems to the body.
  • It can lead to cardiac arrest, blood vessel tears, unconsciousness, motor, and sensory dysfunction.
  • Even if the lightning does not cause death it can lead to lifelong neurological issues, brain damage, memory loss, and severe burns.
Why lightning still kills so many Indians

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