Lightning occurs during energetic storms associated with an unstable atmosphere, requiring relatively warm and humid air, which is why they occur mainly in tropical latitudes and elsewhere during the summer months.
The annual number of lightning strikes in the Arctic – the region north of about 65 degrees latitude – has remained constant for the past decade, but is now increasing significantly in the far north.
Chris Vagasky, Meteorologist and Head of Lightning Applications at Vaisala, said a warming planet is charging the Arctic environment for more lightning to occur.
“What we’ve seen is lightning and thunderstorms developing over Siberia and then moving over the Arctic Ocean and continuing very far north,” Vagasky said. to CNN, pointing out “warm moist air from all continents is now going over the Arctic Ocean and they persist over the Arctic Ocean, so you have storms developing there .”
Jose Martinez-Claros, a researcher at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the University of California, San Diego, who is not involved in the report, said the results were “concerning”.
“This seems to suggest that in the drying and warming climate, these types of storms are now reaching much higher latitudes than before and closer to the Arctic,” he said.
Inside a ‘hellish’ battle to contain WA’s bushfires
“We know that the Arctic is changing faster than the rest of the Earth when it comes to its climate,” Vagasky said.
“And so monitoring these patterns of thunderstorms and lightning in this very remote region helps us detect where these intrusions of warm, moist air are occurring in this region.”
Lightning in the United States also increased in 2021, according to the Vaisala report, where more than 194 million lightning strikes occurred, 24 million more than what was observed in 2020.
More than a million of them occurred in December, in concert with several outbreaks of unprecedented winter weather that have ravaged the central and southern United States.
This is the highest number of strokes seen in December since 2015, Vagasky said, noting that “even in December you could have spring-like or summer-like conditions,” he added. .
In the United States, Texas recorded the most lightning strikes last year, mainly due to its vast area and hot, storm-prone location, Vaisala reports. Florida had the highest lightning density of any state, with 223 lightning strikes per square mile, followed by Louisiana and Texas.
Researchers also found that lightning-triggered wildfires scorched more than two million acres in the United States last year. Across the drought-stricken West, dry lightning sparked deadly and destructive wildfires, including the Bootleg Fire in Oregon that scorched more than 400,000 acres.
Vaisala has detected lightning in the United States for nearly 40 years, and around the planet since 2012. The network detects more than two billion lightning strikes worldwide each year, according to Vaisala, including a 2019 lightning strike in about 50 kilometers from the North Pole, which set a Guinness World Record for the northernmost lightning strike ever detected.
US state goes from fire to smoldering snow
Mr Vagasky said that as the climate crisis progresses and the Arctic continues to warm, changes in remote areas will have a ripple effect on weather patterns across the planet.
“All times are local,” Mr. Vagasky said.
“When you encounter these drastic changes, especially in places like the Arctic, these types of changes don’t just impact the Arctic. The Earth is totally interconnected.”