Faizuddin is still traumatised from the lightning strike that killed his three friends as they took selfies atop a 400-year-old fort in India, where climate change is making lethal strikes more common. Dozens of people have met similarly gruesome ends this year.
About 2,500 people die in lightning strikes around India each year, according to government figures, compared with just 45 in the United States
Cattle and other animals are often killed or maimed during severe thunderstorms, with one burst of lightning in north-eastern Assam state wiping out a herd of 18 elephants in May.
Thunderbolts contain as much as a billion volts of electricity and can cause immense damage to buildings when they hit.
Earlier this year at another fort in Chittorgarh, a few hours south of where Faizuddin’s friends died, a bolt struck a tower and sent a huge chunk of stone plummeting to the ground.
Lightning is also becoming more frequent, with nearly 19 million recorded strikes in the 12 months to March – up by a third from the previous year.
Global warming is driving the increase, says Sanjay Srivastava of the Lightning Resilient India Campaign, one of the few organisations collecting data on thunderstorms.
‘Because of climate change and localised heating of the Earth’s surface and more moisture, there is a sudden surge of huge lightning,’ he said.
The problem is worldwide, with research this year forecasting a possible doubling of the average number of lightning strikes inside the Arctic Circle over this century. This could spark widespread tundra fires and trigger enormous amounts of carbon stored within the permafrost escaping into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.
Evidence suggests lightning strikes are also becoming more common in urban areas – a particular concern in India, where the city population is forecast to rise dramatically in the coming years.
Srivastava said the results could be catastrophic if, for example, a strike hit a hospital and shorted out equipment used to keep patients on life-support in intensive care.
Forecasting is also tricky and warning people of approaching storms is difficult.
Indian scientists recently developed a mobile app that seeks to provide real-time warnings about imminent strikes and precautions to be taken.
For more information, go to www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/3/climate-change-lightning-strikes-deaths-india-weather-monsoons