Lightning kills more people than hurricanes, earthquakes and floods

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), every year more than 2,500 people die due to lightning in India. In 2013, 2,833 and in 2014, 2,582 people died due to lightning strikes. In the year 2015, 2,641 people lost their life due to this anonymous calamity. And yet, lightning remains among the least studied atmospheric phenomena in this country

Shivani GuptaShivani Gupta   26 July 2019 11:40 AM GMT

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Lightning kills more people than hurricanes, earthquakes and floods

Lightning kills more people than hurricanes, earthquakes and floods and is the biggest contributor to accidental deaths due to natural causes. It kills approximately 24,000 people around the world every year.

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), every year more than 2,500 people die due to lightning in India. Twenty-nine people have been killed by lightning over the past 36 hours in Bihar. Most deaths have occurred in Jamui — eight. Earlier, 11 people were killed by lightning on July 20.

In 2013, 2,833 and in 2014, 2,582 people died due to lightning strikes. In the year 2015, 2,641 people lost their life due to this anonymous calamity. A few years ago, over 300 people were reported killed by lightning in just three days — a number that surprised officials and scientists.

And yet, lightning remains among the least studied atmospheric phenomena in the country. Just one group of scientists, at the Indian Institute of Tropical Management (IITM) in Pune, works full-time on thunderstorms and lightning.

Jatin Singh, 35, who runs India's first private weather forecasting company, Skymet, said: "The problem is that lightning claims lives of those living in rural India, which is why the issue does not get much attention. The government should work towards containing number of deaths due to lightening. It can use data available with its agencies and combine it with data available with private agencies to create awareness among people and also look at issuing warnings."

According to the data analyzed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, there were almost 41,000 clouds to ground (CG) lightning strikes all over India on April 16, 2019. Over the past 20 years, the United States averaged 51 annual lightning strike fatalities, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

People are commonly hit by "ground currents". Lightning contains up to one billion volts of electricity in every bolt. However, it is the current that kills and not the voltage. Humans have died nearly at 42 volts. A current of 0.1 ampere for 2 seconds can kill and 0.01 A can hurt severely. An average bolt of negative lightning carries an electric current of 30,000 amperes, which is 3 lakh times as hazardous as to kill.

Impure water is a good conductor of electricity, owing to which many people get hit by lightning while standing in flooded paddy fields. Farmers and labors working in fields get severely affected. Due to lack of awareness, villagers and farmers stay back in their fields or take shelters under large green trees, which hastens lightning effect more.

"The Indian Meteorological Department gives weather forecast every year through Aakashvaani, websites and other mediums, 20-30 minutes before lightning-hits. If people get this information, they can rush to safer places as soon as it is possible," said Mritunjay Mahapatra, Additional Director General of Meteorological Department, Delhi.

Victims get Rs 4 lakh compensation

Jeevan Verma, local resident of Banda in Uttar Pardesh, recently lost his 21-year-old son in a lightning tragedy. He said, "My son was travelling with three others on a truck when lightning struck. One of them got severely burnt while two others got minor burns. They recovered. But my son died on the spot. He was my son."

When Gaon Connection reporter asked Jeevan if he has received Rs 4 lakh as relief funds, announced by CM Yogi Adityanath for the families of the victim. He added, "With the help of Laxman Tiwari, our village accountant, I received Rs 4 lakh directly on my bank account after 5-6 days of my son's death."

Talking about taking precautions, he said: "My home is 5 kms away from my fields.It is not possible for us to run every time lightning strikes. There are only open fields around."

In Uttar Pradesh, 32 people were killed and 13 injured due to lightning on July 21, 2019. Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, expressed sorrow over the loss of lives and announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of the victims, who have died due to rain-related incidents (lightning) in different districts of the state.

(representational pic)

In Rajasthan alone 25 individuals died in a single day on April 16. At least 32 people were killed and over 12 were injured in lightning-related strikes across Bihar. 13 people died in Aurangabad, East Champaran and Bhagalpur districts of Bihar. In Jharkhand, 10 people lost their lives in Jamtara, Ramgarh and Pakur districts. Eight deaths were reported in Jamui, seven in Aurangabad, five in Banka, three each in Bhagalpur and Rohtas districts followed by two deaths in Nalanda and one death each in Gaya, Munger, Katihar and Araria districts.

In 2018, over 3,000 people died due to lightning strikes in the country. Last year, Andhra Pradesh had recorded 41,000 lightning strikes on a single day in May, according to Earth Networks, a Maryland-based company which monitors and collects data on lightning strikes across the World. These strikes had killed 14 people at the time.

"Odisha followed by Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh tops the list of lightning fatalities all over the country. However, these fatalities are a national concern since they occur in every parts of the country," added Mahapatra.

Animal deaths due to lightning

In India, 1,755 lightning fatalities occur per year according to a research paper that documented the number of Global Lighting fatalities by Ronald L Holle in 2016. As many as 3,236 people have been killed by lightning in the eastern Indian state in the past 13 years.

Lightning rarely hits people directly but such strikes are almost always fatal. India sees 2,000-2,500 lightning deaths every year on an average. It becomes dangerous during monsoons and accompanying rains.

For reasons given above, taking shelter under a tree is dangerous. People should move indoors during thunderstorm. Moreover, even indoors, they should avoid touching electrical fittings, wires, metal, and tap water.

What not to do during thunderstorms?

According to an awareness video launched by National Disaster Response Report (NDRF), people who are exposed to direct sky, who take shelter under green trees, who are closer to water bodies, mobile towers and electric poles have high chances of getting hit by lightning shocks.

1) During thunderstorms, one should stay away from electric poles and wires.Do not take shelter under large green trees, stay away from mobile towers and prohibit contact from water.

2) If exposed to direct sky, close your ears to prevent ear drum rupture.

3) Squat on the ground

4) Avoid physical proximity with others

5) Keep umbrellas and iron rods aside as there's an added risk of lightning hit on these metals.

6) Stay away from dried stalks of grain, used especially as fodder, it can catch fire.

How does lightning form?

According to Planet science, lightning is an electric current. When the ground is hot, it heats the air above it. This warm air rises. As the air rises, water vapors cool and form clouds. When air continues to rise, the cloud gets bigger. As the temperature below is freezing, water vapors turn into ice.

Now, the cloud becomes a thundercloud. Lots of small bits of ice bump into each other as they move around. All these collisions cause a buildup of electrical charge. Eventually, the whole cloud fills up with electrical charges. Lighter, positively charged particles form at the top of the cloud. Heavier, negatively charged particles sink to the bottom of the cloud.When the positive and negative charges grow large enough, a giant spark - lightning - occurs between the two charges within the cloud. This is like a static electricity sparks you see, but much bigger.

Most lightning happens inside a cloud, but sometimes it happens between the cloud and the ground.A build up of positive charge builds up on the ground beneath the cloud, attracted to the negative charge in the bottom of the cloud. The ground's positive charge concentrates around anything that sticks up - trees, lightning conductors, even people!

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