David M. Romps, Jacob T. Seeley, David Vollaro, John Molinari


Published date November 14, 2014

Projected increase in lightning strikes in the United States due to global warming

  • States that lightning plays an important role in atmospheric chemistry and in the initiation of wildfires, but the impact of global warming on lightning rates is poorly constrained
  • Proposes that the lightning flash rate is proportional to the convective available potential energy (CAPE) times the precipitation rate
  • Uses observations to show that the product of CAPE and precipitation explains 77% of the variance in the time series of total cloud-to-ground lightning flashes over the contiguous United States (CONUS)
  • Finds that storms convert CAPE times precipitated water mass to discharged lightning energy with an efficiency of 1%
  • Finds that when this proxy is applied to 11 climate models, CONUS lightning strikes are predicted to increase 12 ± 5% per degree Celsius of global warming and about 50% over this century

Open source PDF available here