Washington DC lightning strike that killed three offers climate warning

Aug 5 (Reuters) – Scientists say climate change is increasing the likelihood of lightning strikes in the United States after lightning struck a plaza near the White House, killing three people and another in critical condition.

The hot, humid conditions in Washington, DC, were ready for electricity on Thursday. Air temperatures peaked at 94 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius) — or 5F (3C) higher than the 30-year normal maximum temperature for Aug. 4, according to the National Weather Service.

More heat can draw more moisture into the atmosphere, while also encouraging a rapid updraft — two key factors for charged particles, leading to lightning. A major study published in 2014 in the journal Science warned that lightning strikes could increase by 50% in the United States this century, with every 1 C (1.8 F) of warming translating into a 12-fold increase. % in the number of lightning strikes.

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In rapidly warming Alaska, lightning activity has increased 17% since the cooler 1980s. And in typically arid California, an August 2020 siege of some 14,000 lightning strikes sparked some of the largest recorded wildfires in the state.

Outside the United States, there are indications that lightning strikes are also occurring in India and Brazil.

But even as lightning strikes increase, it’s still extremely rare to be struck by lightning in the United States, experts say. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 40 million lightning strikes strike the country each year, with a chance of less than 1 in a million.

Of those who are hit, about 90% survive the ordeal, the CDC says. The country had 444 deaths from lightning strikes from 2006 to 2021.

The two men and two women who were struck by lightning on Thursday while visiting Washington’s Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, were among the unlucky ones — struck by a bolt that struck the ground during a severe afternoon thunderstorm.

Lightning struck a tree yards (meters) away from the fence that surrounds the presidential residence and offices across the plaza, which is often crowded with visitors, especially in the summer months.

All four victims suffered critical, life-threatening injuries and were taken to area hospitals. read more Two of them later died: James Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75, of Janesville, Wisconsin, the Metropolitan Police Department said.

“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life,” the White House said in a statement Friday. “Our hearts are with the families who have lost loved ones and we pray for those who are still fighting for their lives.”

Later on Friday, a third victim, a 29-year-old man, was pronounced dead, the Metropolitan Police Department said. Further details about the victim were withheld until the next of kin were notified.

Because it often takes heat and moisture to create lightning, most strikes happen in the summer. In the United States, lightning kills the most people in the densely populated, subtropical state of Florida.

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Reporting by Gloria Dickie in London; Additional reporting by Frank McGurty in New York and Chris Gallagher in Washington; Editing by Louise Heavens, Mark Porter & Shri Navaratnam

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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