Thunderstruck in NepalClimate change and increased human activity make lightning strikes even more deadly
Three people who had gone yarsagumba picking in Darchula were struck by lightning on Saturday evening. The injured were airlifted to hospital by the Army.
On Monday, a family of four was injured when lightning struck them as they slept in their home in Dailekh.
Lightning mostly occurs high above the earth’s surface and is harmless, but cloud-to-ground strikes— which make for around 10% of all lightning— can be lethal.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Authority (NDRRMA), there have been 45 lightning strikes just in the last 30 days which killed five and injured 42, and also killed 142 livestock.
Lightning strikes are more frequent during the current pre-monsoon season in Nepal and also spark forest fires. Nine people have died from lightning strikes in 2023, four in March, three in April, and so far two in May. 80 people have been injured.
“Lightning strikes are becoming more frequent and violent,” says climate expert Ngamindra Dahal, adding that there are more casualties because of greater human mobility.
In the last 10 years, lightning accounted for the third-highest number of deaths due to disasters with 905 fatalities, ranking after the 2015 earthquakes and landslides. And yet, there is little awareness or preparedness.
Now, studies have linked the increase in intensity and frequency of thunderstorms to climate change induced convection systems.
Read also: Lightning kills more people than floods in Nepal, Sonia Awale
“These changes in climate and weather dynamics make a case for the change in frequency and intensity of lightning strikes being climate change-driven,” adds Dahal.
Nepal’s mountains have always been vulnerable to cloudbursts and lightning strikes, with districts like Makwanpur and Tanahu being the most vulnerable.
But lightning is a natural disaster that can be prevented in cost-effective manner, at least its impacts, says Dahal. It can be as simple as local governments marking off areas with frequent cloudbursts and putting out information about when the public needs to avoid the areas.
Another option is to set up public shelters made up of lightning arresters, especially near picnic zones, or areas where farmers take their livestock to graze.
For its part, the NDRRMA on its website allows people to parse which lightning strikes are dangerous by counting from 1 to 30. If thunder sounds within 30 seconds of a lightning flash, seek shelter immediately for at least half an hour as those are closer to the ground, and thus more dangerous.
“Our research has so far mostly been limited to keeping records of death and injuries, and not so much looking into evolving climate and weather dynamics or the increasing intensity and coverage of lightning strikes,” says Dahal. “But we can give early warning based on Doppler radar mapping for location of possible lightning storms.”
Read also: Forecast: more thunderstorms, Om Astha Rai