Eight to nine million lightning strikes hit the earth every day, with a bolt of lightning reaching a temperature of 27,700°C and carrying 100 million volts – each one can be up to five miles long.
Some countries and regions are more prone to lightning strikes than others, leaving their residents at more risk of being killed or injured during a thunderstorm. Lightning is certainly not distributed evenly around the earth.
Where does lightning strike most often?
Data shows that an astounding 70% of lightning occurs over the Tropics. The place that’s hit most frequently is Kifuka, a mountain village in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 3,200 feet above sea level, the region receives an average of 158 lightning strikes per square kilometre, every year.
In Venezuela, an atmospheric phenomenon called Catatumbo lightning occurs over the mouth of the Catatumbo River, where it meets Lake Maracaibo. Connected to the Gulf of Venezuela and the Caribbean Sea, the region suffers lightning strikes on 140 to 260 days per year, continuing for up to 10 hours a day.
Singapore experiences lightning strikes on between 171 and 186 days of the year; with each square kilometre of land being struck up to 16 times annually.
Northern Brazil also suffers a high number of lightning strikes, with the city of Teresina and the surrounding region known as the “chapada do corisco” being commonly referred to as the “flash lightning flatlands”. Brazil has recorded 60 million lightning strikes in a single year.
How many people die from lightning strikes?
A study carried out by the National Institute of Space Research in Brazil estimated that 6,000 people were killed annually around the world by lightning strikes. The number of deaths can be disproportionate to the amount of lightning in a region, due to the size of the population.
According to the National Lightning Safety Institute’s latest statistics; lightning claims an average of 150 lives per year in Africa, 132 in Brazil and 13 in Venezuela. In Singapore, an average of 0.35 deaths per million population occur due to lightning strikes, compared with the UK, where lightning accounts for 0.2 deaths per million population.
How much material damage does it cause?
The costs of lightning strikes can be astronomical, heightening the need for the installation of lightning protection systems to prevent structural damage.
Around 30,000 house fires and 10,000 wildfires are caused by lightning in the USA every year – with firefighting costs soaring to $1.5 billion.
Porgera JV mine in Papua, New Guinea suffered a severe lightning strike that left it running at half its normal capacity after 50% of its electrical power was lost. Losses spiralled to $67 million over three months.
In the UK, the Blower family of Walsall suffered the horror of a bolt of lightning hitting their television aerial, blasting a 4ft hole in the roof. It burned out all their electrical sockets and wiring; destroying 37 electrical appliances including televisions, computers and the vacuum cleaner.
Why are some areas more prone to lightning strikes?
Thunderstorms are created by the intense heating of the earth’s surface, hence they are more prevalent in areas of the world where the weather is hot and humid, such as tropical climates. Land masses experience more lightning strikes than the oceans for the same reason.
E.g. April, May and November in Singapore are most lightning-prone because of the intense heat and monsoon conditions.
What’s the importance of knowing where lightning can strike?
Technology and databases can be used to assess potential lightning strikes. The NASA Lightning and Atmospheric Electricity Research Centre says that technology can detect severe storms; so, warnings can be issued. It’s also possible to estimate rainfall and track storms.
Warnings can be issued if aviation hazards are predicted and power companies and fuel depots can be alerted. Forest fires can be forecast and cyclone development predicted.
Anyone wishing to find live lightning activity can check out sites online, such as http://www.lightningmaps.org/realtime?lang=en or http://en.blitzortung.org/live_dynamic_maps.php to see if you’re at risk.