Deaths due to lightning have come down by more than 60 per cent in the vulnerable states of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland during 2021-22. Yet the challenges of replicating this in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which account for 60 per cent of the annual toll, are daunting.

These are the findings of the Annual Lightning Report 2021-22 brought out by the Lightning Resilient India Campaign. Third, in the series, it stands out for featuring a Lightning Atlas of India with micro-zonation achieved down to the district level. It maps entire lightning strikes across States and Union Territories along with impacts and detailed analysis, says Sanjay Srivastava, Convener of the Campaign.

Lightning Atlas of India

“We still have one more year left and our target till 2022 is to bring the toll down by 40 per cent more,” he told BusinessLine. “Micro-zonation is a major effort towards drawing up a long-term plan to handle a natural hazard that kills humans and animals alike. It also marks a major turn away from an ad-hoc approach clouded by a myopic view and often ill-defined goals,” Srivastava told BusinessLine.

Citizen science approach

The campaign has been a joint initiative of the Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council (CROPC), India Meteorological Department (IMD) and the Ministry of Earth Science (MoES). It carried the early warning services of IMD and knowledge products of various MoES institutions to stakeholders and the community with value-added insights for more meaningful outcomes.

A ‘citizen science’ approach was adopted in the campaign that saw more than 1.6 million volunteers from World Vision India, the Indian Red Cross Society, and NGOs help implement lightning resilience action plans up to the last mile. “We had conceived it in Jharkhand in 2008 and developed early warning protocols in 2011. The IMD started lightning forecasts in April 2019, and CROPC-IMD jointly launched the campaign on March 26, 2019, with a professed aim to reduce lightning deaths by 80 per cent in three years.

Climatology of lightning

It also oversaw the first ever mapping of complete lightning strikes - Intra or Inter Cloud (IC) lightning and Cloud to Ground (CG) lightning - for two consecutive years. “This is a good effort to develop the climatology of lightning,” Srivastava explained. The biggest achievement is that the science of lightning (fulminology) has evolved. The 2021-22 report assesses a 19.48 per cent decrease in total lightning strikes. But the reduction in dangerous CG lightning (an invisible channel of electrically charged air moving from the cloud toward the ground) was only 2.5 per cent.

Lightning ‘locked down’

This implies that the conversion ratio and lightning have been extremely high. IC lightning occurs most frequently - and makes up to 90 per cent of all lightning. Total lightning has reduced from 1,85,44,367 strikes in 2019-2020 to 1,49,31,365 in 2020-2021, fewer by 36,13,002. Studies have revealed that globally there was eight per cent less lightning due to Covid-19, which was validated in India’s case also. This is, in turn, attributed to releasing fewer aerosols during lockdowns, bringing down their concentration in the atmosphere. Researchers at an American Geophysical Union meeting have since presented findings showing this drop in atmospheric aerosols coincided with a drop in lightning.

Maximum striked in MP

Back home, Madhya Pradesh remains at the top with the maximum number of lightning l strikes. Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh saw more strikes than Odisha. Among states with more than two lakh CG strikes are West Bengal, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Among districts, Kutch in Gujarat is the most lightning-prone, along with Mayurbhanj in Odisha. However, mortality is much higher in Mayurbhanj due to specific socio-economic attributes.

Srivastava regretted that lightning, even today, is not notified as a national disaster. It has been declared a state-specific disaster by 16 states as per Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines, opening up access to 10 per cent of the State Disaster Response Fund. Such provisions do not serve the purpose since many disasters, lightning included, are not notified as such.