Sunday, April 14, 2024

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What Is Dry Lightning And Why It Matters

Forest fires are a major problem, and while many of them are caused by humans, plenty are started naturally. The main igniter is lightning, or more specifically, dry lightning. In fact, it is responsible for three of the most destructive fires in California.

As you might have guessed, there is very little rain or none at all, which allows the fires it causes to run rampant.

Unfortunately, scientists did not know what caused this phenomenon to happen, which made it very difficult to track. But a major breakthrough has been made. A new report has detailed the conditions necessary for dry lightning to occur.

Simply put, it occurs when the troposphere is extremely dry, which causes the rain that would normally happen alongside the lightning to evaporate. And since high temperatures and dryness are part of the conditions, it also creates an environment where vegetation is more likely to burn.

Thus, it becomes far more deadly for the environment, but this discovery will enable better preparation for the areas most susceptible to these types of lightning strikes.

How Often Does Dry Lightning Strike?

Firstly, dry lightning strikes the ground just like normal lightning. There is no difference between the rates. What is different is the destruction.

Normally, the rain will prevent the lighting from igniting what it strikes, or at the very least stop the spread of the fire. However, when there is no rainfall, nothing puts out the fire or prevents it from going out of control.

And more importantly, if lightning strikes in a forest and no one is around to see it, how long does it take for emergency services to respond?

The fires can quickly grow in size, and ultimately go beyond what emergency response can handle. Unfortunately, it can happen a lot every year. In just the month of August in 2020, over 12,000 dry-lightning strikes started 650 wildfires in California.

In total, an estimated 1.5 million acres of land were impacted. Overall, estimates believe 28.5% of California wildfires form from dry-lightning.

Thus to answer the question, they can strike a lot with the right conditions. And climate change is making those conditions happen regularly.

Why Does This Discovery Matter?


The main issue with these wildfires is how far away they may start from a road. If they start very far away (60+ miles), it can take a long time for anyone to identify the blaze. And by that time, the fire is already raging.

Not to mention that getting the necessary equipment and personnel to the location takes time.

By being aware that dry lightning will be in a specific vicinity, systems can be set up to help detect these strikes. This will speed up reactions and prevent fires from rapidly spreading. It has the potential to save millions of acres of forest.

Of course, it’s important to remember that this study specifically focuses on Northern California. Other regions around the world will have unique condition parameters. Thus, more research is going to be necessary.

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Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.

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