Where Does Lightning Hit in India & its impact on human lives
Note: The following is a summary of the study, ‘The major lightning regions and associated casualties over India’ published by Pramod Kumar Yadava et al. Please follow this link to access the study.
A very interesting and important titled ‘The major lightning regions and associated casualties over India’ was published recently by Pramod Kumar Yadava et al in the journal ‘Natural Hazards’. This paper complied and analysed 16 years (1998-2013) of satellite data of the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) onboard the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) and also calculated estimates of casualties using data from Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India, National Crime Record Bureau report of India. Using these sources of data, the authors of the paper are able to provide temporal and spatial information about the average lightning frequency in India, deaths from lightning and the concurrent causalities. The abstract of the paper provides a summary of the findings of the papers:
“The spatial distribution analysis reveals that lightning occurs mostly in hilly regions over India throughout the year (26 flash/sq. km/yr) and, however, causes lesser casualties because of the sparse population over the hilly terrain. The seasonal analysis reveals the most lightning phenomena occur during the pre-monsoon period (40–45 flash/sq. km/yr) over the northeast region of India. During the winter period, lightning dominates the northern parts of India such as Jammu and Kashmir. The state-wise casualties’ study reveals that maximum casualties are reported in Madhya Pradesh (313 deaths from lightning), Maharashtra (281 deaths from lightning) and Orissa (255 deaths from lightning) on an average per annum. The favourable climatic conditions, such as availability of moisture content, unstable atmosphere and strong convection, cause severe cases of lightning over the regions of Orissa and Maharashtra.”
Deaths from lightning in India
In the period covered by the study (1998-2013), there were a total of 317,453 deaths that were attributed to nature. This included a variety of causes of death such as avalanches, earthquakes, epidemics, forest fires, landslides and many more as seen in the table below. However, Lightning was the biggest cause of death attributed to nature at 31,285 deaths or 9. 85%. This means that lightning is the cause of more than 2,000 deaths every year in India.
However, these deaths are not spread evenly across the country but instead are concentrated in certain states as seen in the maps below. The highest number of casualties per annum were found in Madhya Pradesh (313), Maharashtra (281) and Odisha (255). The table below shows the average distribution of fatalities due to Lightning across all the states and union territories in India.
The fatalities are highest in these regions despite the fact that we can clearly see in the Annual Lightning Map of India that other areas such as the North East and Jammu & Kashmir have a higher flash density. The authors of the study suggest that this difference may be because the North East and J&K are hilly and/or mountainous areas that may be sparsely populated while Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha are flatter regions with much higher population densities.
When is Lightning most active in India?
The map below clearly shows a seasonal trend for lightning in different parts of the country. The post-monsoon period between September to February is the least active in terms of Lightning flashes while the pre-Monsoon and the Monsoon season are the most active. The pre-monsoon time sees some of the highest flash densities of the entire year especially in the North-Eastern states where it can reach as high as 40–45 flash/sq. km/yr. This is especially pronounced in the states of Assam and Meghalaya. While other states have moderate levels of lightning during this time, pre-Monsoon is also the main period of crop cultivation in many parts of the country, making farmers in open fields especially vulnerable. During the monsoon season from June-August, we see flash densities of between 20-45 flash/sq. km/yr in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
The figure below from the study clearly shows that lightning flash density in India peaks during the month of April.
In comparison to ‘The Mid-Monsoon 2019 Lightning Report
As per a report published by Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council (CROPC) as part of their Lightning Resilient Campaign, India was hit by 6.5 million lightning strikes between 1st April, 2019 to 31st July, 2019 with 2.4 million of those lightning strikes hitting the ground. As per the report by the CROPC as well, the North East of India is especially prone to lightning strikes during this period of the year.
This report complied its tally on causalities “based on reports as received from state Governments or media or reported by Volunteers … With a few states, the data is still being reconciled.” Additionally, the information below is only for a period of only 4 months.
The table on the left shows a total death toll of 1,279 individuals during this 4 months period in 2019 which tallies well with the annual death toll of 2,000 people approximated by the previous study. However, there is a big difference in the spatial dispersion of deaths between the two studies which could be attributed to differences in the methodology of data collection for deaths.
The CROPC data clearly shows that the biggest burden of death due to lightning in India is in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. However, there is still a significant death due to lightning in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
Rural-Urban Divide in Lightning Risk
As illustrated in the graphic below, the vast majority of deaths due to lightning are in rural areas, especially amongst farmers who are working in open fields.
The CROPC goes into further detail and shows that deaths are primarily (71%) caused due to people standing under trees for protection during rains, thunderstorms or lightning. Additional awareness to stop people from standing under trees during lightning activity or thunderstorms can save about 2,000 lives every year.
Like the study by Yadava et al, the CROPC report also comes to a similar conclusion about the differences between the spatial distribution of lightning flashes and the resultant casualties.
“If one compares the average highest frequency of lightning occurrence spatially, with the highest number of casualties, they do not match. Hence, it is to be analysed why lightning is more devastating in some fewer frequency regions such as Maharashtra but less devastating in regions where the frequency is higher”
Lightning Protection & Awareness are Extremely Important
Lightning is clearly a very dangerous phenomenon that endangers the lives of thousands of Indians every year. Even the CROPC report states that “(e)ssence of 100% safety from Lightning is possible only on the installation of standard Lightning protection device … Results have been very evident as Odisha had zero lightning casualty during Cyclone Fani and Jharkhand had a lightning accident free Shrawani Mela, consecutively 6 years since 2014.”
Assessing, designing and finally constructing a safe and reliable Lightning Protection System is not an easy task. It requires many measurements, calculations, and experience to execute perfectly. In addition to the products and 25 years of experience that Axis offers, we also offer a software suite that will help simplify all your lightning protection calculations so that you can put your head towards providing the best service for your clients. Axis can also help you with the entire process from Step 1 of Risk Assessment, to Lightning Protection System Design and all the way through supply of internationally approved products. Our engineers will be on the field with you to make sure that they provide the most precise protection for your structure!
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This article is part of our series of articles on Lightning Protection, Surge Protection & Earthing, you can read more with the following links:
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