NASA

You're going to want to start staying away from lone trees and flag poles as climate change continues.

Americans should prepare to see more searing flashes in the sky in coming decades, say scientists, as the warming atmosphere drives up the number of lightning strikes.

The association between more heat energy in the atmosphere and the frequency of lightning bolts has been studied for a while. Past research suggests that for every uptick of 1 degree Celsius, there could be an increase in lightning of anywhere from 5 to 100 percent. But a team led by David Romps of the University of California, Berkeley, believe they've nailed down a more exact range: According to their new study in Science, there will be 12 percent more lightning in the U.S. for every elevation of 1 degree Celsius (with a 5 percent margin of error).

That might not sound like a big deal, but with the way the planet's heating up it could become one. We might already be seeing more thunderous zaps than our great grandparents: The atmosphere is nearly 1 degrees Celsius warmer than it was in the late 1800s. And if the global thermostat continues to jack up the temperature—recall that 2012 was the most sweltering year since records began in 1895—strikes could rain down furiously. Romps' crew says it's reasonable to expect a 50 percent rise in strikes through the rest of the century.

For folks who fear going up like a Roman candle anytime a storm rolls in, that can't be comforting news. But the most significant impacts of more lightning will be on the environment, such as bad breakouts of wildfires. The researchers write:

Because lightning is the primary trigger for wildfires, and generates nitrogen oxides that impact atmospheric content, the method Romps et al. developed has important implications for understanding future changes to wildfire frequency and atmospheric chemistry.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. The Cincinnati skyline and river
    Life

    Maps Reveal Where the Creative Class Is Growing

    “The rise of the rest” may soon become a reality as once-lagging cities see growth of creative class employment.

  2. A man stands next to an electric scooter
    Transportation

    Why Electric Scooters Companies Are Getting Serious About Safety

    Lime has joined rival Bird in establishing a safety advisory board tasked with helping the e-scooter industry shape local regulations—and shake its risky reputation.

  3. People wait in line, holding tote bags in the sunshine, outside a job fair.
    Equity

    How 3 Skill Sets Explain U.S. Economic Geography

    Metro areas in the U.S. with higher cognitive and people skills, versus motor skills, perform better economically and are more resilient during downturns.

  4. Little kids under a blanket.
    Perspective

    How U.S. Child Care Is Segregated: a Brooklyn Story

    At a daycare in a gentrifying Brooklyn area, is the entrance of racially diverse, middle-class families income integration, or more akin to colonization?

  5. Perspective

    Hurricane Barry: Lessons From a Disaster That Wasn’t

    Hurricane Barry largely spared New Orleans, but it underscored that climate change brings complex impacts and hard choices.

×