11.5 C
Byron Shire
June 15, 2024

Pandemic weather: The effect of COVID-19 on lightning

Latest News

Housing waiting lists jump over 100 per cent for Northern Rivers

Crisis response needed from NSW state government as listings for priority housing increase over 100 per cent in multiple Northern Rivers regions.

Other News

Is consciousness necessary?

As science progresses the magical, spiritual, perceptions of the world fall away into the garbage trucks that pass by...

Chinny Charge entries now open!

Now’s the time to enter the Chinny Charge up Mullumbimby’s local mountain on Saturday, September 21.  The annual run and...

Help save the Big Scrub rainforest with science

There is only one per cent of the Big Scrub rainforest in Northern New South Wales remaining. This has left what were once mighty rainforests now critically endangered and facing the threat of extinction because of a serious lack of genetic diversity.

Mullum students off to parliament

During the April Easter school holidays, three Mullum High students represented the local electorates in the prestigious NSW Youth Parliament program camp.  

Rail trails

Having ridden both local rail trails I can only say what a pleasure they bring. No cars or traffic noise...

All the way with DJT?

With the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States now a convicted felon, what does it mean for Australia if Donald Trump returns to the White House, and what are the ramifications of our major military ally drifting into authoritarianism?

Photo Prescott Pym www.flickr.com

Brought to you by The Echo and Cosmos Magazine


Has there been anything positive about the pandemic? Perhaps…

In a finding with implications for everything from climate change to the future of wildfires, researchers from the US and India have found an unexpected knock-on effect of COVID-19: a significant reduction in the number of lightning bolts worldwide.

It happened because COVID-19 produced lockdowns which, in turn, caused people to use less fossil fuel, says Earle Williams, a physical meteorologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, who has presented his findings at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans, Louisiana.

‘People stopped flying, people stopped using public transportation, people stopped driving,’ he says. ‘So, there was less pollution.’

That’s important because fossil fuel burning produces aerosols that play a role in thunderstorm build-up by acting as tiny particles around which moisture can condense.

When they are few in number, they produce big droplets that quickly fall out as rain. When there are more of them, the droplets are more numerous, but smaller. This allows them to rise high enough to freeze into ice crystals. Turbulence among these ice crystals and small, hail-like particles called graupel produces the static electricity that powers lightning bolts.

The effect, Williams says, showed up most strongly during the height of COVID-19 lockdown, in March, April and May of 2020.

Satellite images at the time showed a substantial reduction in the amount of aerosol pollution, particularly in China, Southeast Asia, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Maritime Continent of Indonesia, the Philippines and neighbouring island nations.

Meanwhile, two different networks for monitoring global lightning strikes showed 10-20 per cent reductions, depending on whether they were counting cloud-to-ground strikes or all lightning bolts, including those that ran cloud-to-cloud.

These, too, found that the places with the biggest reductions were China, Southeast Asia, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Maritime Continent – exactly the places where COVID-19 lockdowns had produced the biggest improvements in air quality.

Even in the Americas, where the effects of the pandemic were less consistent (with some areas seeing better air quality and others seeing worse), the pattern held, with areas where pollution was reduced also seeing reduced lightning. ‘In a broad brush there is a consistency,’ Williams says.

It’s an important finding not just for meteorologists, but for trying to predict the effect of climate change on lightning – and, by extension, on bushfires.

On the one hand, Williams says, it appears that temperature plays a major role in thunderstorm formation. ‘There is every indication you will have more lightning in a warmer world,’ he says. But temperature isn’t the only factor. Overall, Williams says, ‘it depends on whether the future is cleaner or dirtier.’ And since efforts to reduce climate change should also reduce pollution, he adds, ‘that alone should reduce lightning activity.’


This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Richard A Lovett. Richard A Lovett is a Portland, Oregon-based science writer and science fiction author. He is a frequent contributor to Cosmos.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Editorial – Should Mullum’s water remain locally sourced?

The push by members of Council’s Water and Sewer Advisory Committee (WSAC) to retain Mullum’s local water supply is heating up...

Relocalising to find the life we all dream of

Everywhere we look we see signs of economic downturn, environmental destruction and social breakdown. It’s easy to wonder how we can ever improve our lives and those of our kids.

Mullet fishers destroy dunes and native plants at Gawandii Beach, Shaws Bay

Locals and Tuckombil Landcare have expressed concerns over damage to the dunes at Gawandii Beach at Shaws Bay by fisher people who are accessing the beach for the mullet harvesting season. 

Flood-prone land subdivision DA on exhibition

A proposal by developer Callum Sked to subdivide flood-prone land near the Mullumbimby Showground is now on public exhibition on Council’s website until June 25.